White Slavery and Punishment in Jamestown~ Original Court Documents prove they are NOT a MYTH!

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Originally posted on Kelli Rea Klampe:
~Their Unfortunate Lives are not a MYTH~ There are so many stories going about in the recent months. The false statements are claiming that the Irish Slaves are a myth, untrue and being spread…

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Not One…Not Two…But Three Reviews!

Notes On A Page

Just call it a very, very, very early Christmas present. Or something like that. I’ve been lucky enough to get some extra reading in lately, and I’ve been busy giving reviews to the best books I’ve read over the last few weeks. And as I haven’t posted here for a while, I thought I’d bundle them altogether, so you lovely folks can have some ideas for what to snuggle up with as the weather gets colder. 😉

A Pound of Flesh (A Robert Young of Newbiggin Mystery, Book 1)

Stuart S. Laing

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I could not put this book down. I love historicals, but I’ve never actually sat down with a historical that’s also a crime thriller, or one where you feel so transported through the use of a local dialect. The characters were well-rounded and interesting to get to know, and I loved the use of Scots for their speech…

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The Maid of Harlaw

Over the last 300 years, a total of eleven men of the Jameson family have been found dead in, or near, the ruins of Brunstane Tower near the village of Bonaly in Mid-Lothian. The most recent death was in 2005 when the late Laird of Brunstane the Rt. Hon. Patrick Jameson, determined to prove that the supposed curse affecting his family was no more than legend, arranged for a TV crew to film him while he spent the night amid the ruins on the night of Halloween. Having survived the experiment, he drove off, only to die when his Range Rover veered off the road through Corby Wood and collided with a tree. The producer of the programme, travelling as his passenger, claimed that he had seen a woman suddenly rush in front of the car forcing the laird to swerve. Since then the entire family has vowed to be out of the country during Halloween. What follows is the most infamous tale regarding the family.

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The Maid of Harlaw

By

Stuart S. Laing

            Lord Edwin Jameson, the Laird of Brunstane, emitted a low groan, his head resting on a damp pillow of fragrant, though crushed heather. As he lay supine on this unusual bed, he tried to make sense of what had just befallen him. One moment he had been cantering along atop his bay gelding heading back towards the sprawling mass of Edinburgh, the next his horse had seen fit to rear on his hind legs and rudely deposit Edwin, without the least ceremony, into this bed of heather where he now lay. Gingerly he opened his steel blue eyes to blink at the slate grey sky with low scudding, dark clouds filling his immediate view. Releasing a fresh groan, he carefully sat up after ascertaining that no limbs were broken and there was no immediate need for a case of the vapours. Everything seemed to be working correctly as he pushed back a lock of hair from the fine lines of his classically handsome face. Why had the damned horse reared in that manner? He thought back, desperate to make some sense of what had happened. An afternoon’s ride in the rugged beauty of the Pentland Hills had seemed like a jolly jape when he set out a few hours earlier. The warnings of his friends when he announced his plan had been ignored with laughter. That idea seemed a sight less jolly now, and the warnings much more sensible, as he cast around for some sight of his mount. There was neither hide nor hair of the beast to be found causing him to groan anew as he unsteadily climbed to his feet to examine his riding outfit. It was wet, crumpled, but thankfully, largely intact. It was when he began to push his way through the heather, in what he felt certain was the right direction, did a sudden image come to him. Just before his horse reared there had been the briefest glimpse of someone immediately in his path…a young woman dressed entirely in white?

His brows furrowed at the memory. Had he really seen her, he asked himself as his gaze swept the low, tussocky growth of heather carpeting the hillside. What if the horse had hit her! She could have been sent sprawling in any direction. Cursing her for her foolishness, he quickly began to quarter the immediate vicinity of where he himself had landed. If he found her, and she was alive, he was determined to berate her in the most ungentlemanly manner for being so stupid as to suddenly stand in the path of a horse. After a fruitless ten minutes of stamping back and forth, Edwin was convinced she was no more than a figment of his mind, created by the unexpected shock of being pitched headlong into the blasted landscape.

With a scowl marring his perfect features he resumed his advance across the hillside while still looking in every direction, both for some sign of anyone who could assist him, and also for the woman in white just in  case he had actually seen her. All he could see were rolling hills surrounding him as he traversed the side of a bowl shaped valley. To his left hand could be seen a narrow gap in the surrounding vista of wind-blasted grass and stunted heather, all in unappealing shades of brown and tan. “Damn silly idea!” he complained to himself, making for the gap, while the sky grew slowly darker and the wind speed began to increase in strength, bringing with it the threat of rain.

 

*          *          *

 

“Who in their right mind visits this blasted land in October?” Kicking angrily at a broken branch tangled amid the heather, he trampled the landscape below his now muddy boots. Pulling out his prized pocket-watch he discovered, much to his horror, that the face was cracked and the time stood frozen at eighteen minutes to four. “Well that just about does it!” he erupted at the empty hillside. “Thrown from my horse, abandoned and alone in the middle of this God-forsaken nowhere, and now, to add insult to injury, my damned watch is broken! You do know I am meant to be dining with the Lord Lieutenant of the Lothians this evening? Not that you care, do you!?”

Still grumbling loudly to the world in general, Edwin pushed onwards through the gap in the hills to find a sheep path meandering down towards a long expanse of woods, stretching across the land below him. Just visible in the far distance stood the smoking, grey mass of the city of Edinburgh. At least six miles as the crow flew, he reckoned with a fresh scowl. Only the distant sound of a steam train’s whistle convinced him he was still in the year 1885, and not cast backwards to some more primitive time, such was the emptiness of the land around him. He began a fresh round of complaints while the wind, with an eerie howl, buffeted him as a smirl of rain blew around from the steadily darkening sky threatening the swift onset of night.

With the wind continuing to increase in strength, Edwin pushed down the hillside and on into the shelter of the trees while the light continued to seep from the day. Amid the trees he was, at least, sheltered from the rain but had to endure the endless soughing of branches as they clashed and battled against each other, shedding leaves to add to those already carpeting the floor beneath the scant canopy.

Faced with this miserable turn of events Edwin found fresh cause to complain about being in Scotland in October. A time when anyone with any sense would be safe, dry and warm in the salons of London, mixing with the cream of society, rather than stumbling about a dark forest where visibility was reduced to a few yards as night relentlessly laid claim to the day. “Can this day get any worse?”

An unseen force reached out and grabbed Edwin’s foot, sending him pitching headlong once more to the ground along with a shriek of purest fear. With his heart racing in his chest, he kicked out at the evil hand which held him only to realise, much to his chagrin, that his attacker was no more than a root standing free from the leaves and soil about it. Sitting on his knees, Edwin released a long, slow sigh before climbing to his feet again, brushing the dirt and leaves from his increasingly soiled outfit. All the while the world was filled with the endless noise of the wind rushing through the trees so loudly that it reminded him of trains passing each other in Kings Cross Station. Oh how he wished he was there right now. With a resigned sigh, his feet reluctantly advanced, this time with a hand held before him to ward off unseen trees in the near total darkness.

harlaw-2Somewhere before him there was suddenly a light. Someone was out there with a lantern. “Hello!” he called as he, almost without any conscious thought, moved towards the light bobbing and weaving between the trees. “Hello there. Wait for me!” he cried, although he knew that his words were carried away on the wind long before they reached whoever it was that travelled through the noisy, darkness. Heedless of the risk of injury, Edwin hurried after the light bearer, but no matter how hard he pushed his pace, no matter how many times he felt the sting of low branches catch his face, the light remained resolutely distant. Quite unexpectedly he emerged from the confines of the trees to see the stark outline of a tall tower house standing in a circular clearing in the heart of the woods.

A distant roll of thunder added to the cacophony of noise created by wind and rain while the person bearing the lantern entered the ancient looking house. For a moment he stared at the architectural relic thinking that no’one had thought to live in such an outdated home for decades, if not centuries. He knew his own family had once held just such a tower house as their seat of power back in the mists of time, when they had risen to power at the side of James V. The family had long since abandoned such rustic living amid these very hills for the more palatial surroundings provided by a town-house in Edinburgh’s New Town. Not that they spent more than a week or two there each year. Home was most assuredly London these days, and had been since his ancestors had moved south following the Act of Union in 1707. As grim and unwelcoming as the tower house looked to his uncertain gaze, it was still a more promising alternative to remaining outdoors as thunder crashed again and the rain fell heavier on his hatless head. Drawing in a steadying breath, Edwin hurried after the light bearer, and the faint outline of the door they had left invitingly ajar as though expecting him to follow.

 

*          *          *

 

Pushing the door open, Edwin found himself standing at the foot of a narrow staircase winding upwards. With no other direction to take, he climbed the worn steps, while the sound of the storm outside gradually faded to little more than background noise. The stairwell was black as coal but with his hands stroking the smooth stone on either side, Edwin felt confident he would soon be warm and fed. Happily he took the steps each in turn until seeing the outline of a door illuminated by a bright light from within the room behind it. Reaching the door his manners returned, albeit shakily, to him. Knocking gently upon the ancient wood he tried to make himself as presentable as possible under the circumstances.

“Come in, sir,” a distinctly feminine voice called out. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

A brief shiver caressed his spine but he shook it away. This was no time for childish fears. The door opened easily to his touch to reveal a large, square chamber cramped with archaic, old fashioned furniture of dark wood and heavy tapestries on the walls. A single narrow window showed the now torrential rain lashing itself endlessly against the glass, while the wind howled like a trapped spirit in the chimney. Two chairs sat before a roaring fire on the far wall. In one chair could be seen the shoulders and head of the hostess who did not turn to welcome him. She simply said, “Come in, take a seat. This is not a night to be lost and alone.”

“Thank you for your kindness,” he replied, hurrying through the shadow haunted room and closer to the fire. Resisting the urge to warm his hands in the heat of the dancing flames he stood several feet from where she sat to offer her a formal bow. Straightening his spine he took his first look at his hostess and felt the breath catch in his throat. She was beautiful. No, she was beyond the simple word, beautiful. That word was nowhere near enough to describe the vision of exquisite female perfection he found himself gaping at. From her waist length raven black hair, alabaster skin, green eyes and ruby lips, she had a presence that commanded complete and instant adoration.

“Sit down,” she repeated in the tones of a common girl of the land. It was the only thing which jarred with the very image of female beauty. What did it matter how she sounded, when she looked like that, he mused. His own fiancée awaiting his return back in Edinburgh was completely overshadowed by this mysterious woman,

Taking the offered seat, his tongue felt thick and useless in his mouth while he stuttered out an explanation for his sudden arrival.

“Aye, these hills and woods can be dangerous, sir,” she offered with a lift of one corner of her sculpted lip. “I can tell you are have not been paying attention to your history. No local would dare enter Corby Wood, especially on this of all nights.”

“This night?” he replied stupidly while his eyes continued to devour every inch of her. The white dress which fitted her like a second skin looked like something his grandmother would have worn in her youth, he considered. Perhaps such old fashioned attire was still in vogue here?

“Aye, sir. All Hallows Eve, or Samhain as the auld ones once called it. Not a night to be lost. It is a time when the veil between the lands of those who live, and those who have gone is thinnest. It is when those with just cause can cross from one realm to another, if they have reason enough.” Again that faint, half smile twitched on her lips. “Any local would tell you that Corby Wood is to be avoided like death itself on this night.”

“Really?” Edwin chuckled. “Fortunately I am not some credulous rustic, my lady, who quails at old fairy stories, I assure you. I am quite sure that neither of us have anything to fear from the night, no matter what the date may be.”

“Aye? Perhaps you could be half right,” she smiled coldly. Her head tilted to one side as her green eyes examined him. He revelled in the examination, confident that it would not be long before she was smitten with his good looks. “You look like your great-great-grand-father. Did you know that?”

Edwin’s brows rose in surprise. “I do? How do you know something like that? Do you have an old portrait of the rogue here? I have heard he was quite a gadabout in his day,” he laughed.

The smile never left her face as she shook her head. “Allow me to introduce myself, sir. I am Sarah Bonillo, although the locals usually call me by another, less common name, but never to my face. Or at least, never twice. Have you heard of me?”

“Unfortunately not, my lady… Well I had best call you Miss…? Yes, Miss Bonillo,” Edwin chuckled. “Yes, I have noticed that the local rustics do have a propensity for labelling their betters with pet names. Damned cheeky of them, really, don’t you think?”

“I think they know their own minds better than you or I, Lord Brunstane.” Sarah sat slightly forward allowing the dancing flames to illuminate her face in highlights and shadows. “Do you wish to hear an old story?”

Edwin nodded slowly. Suddenly he did not feel quite so confident that his charms were going to win him a bed companion tonight. Something felt wrong, he felt, but what that was remained unclear. “Miss Bonillo,” he said in a reedy voice. “You seem to know me, although I am sure that I would most assuredly remember ever having the pleasure to meet you before.”

That same haunting smile played on her lovely lips as she sat back in her chair casting her largely into shade. “No, we haven’t met. In fact, most men only ever meet me once.” There was something in the inflection of her voice, something that seemed both joking and threatening that sent a fresh shiver down Edwin’s back.

Indecisiveness seemed to grasp him then. Should he put aside his sudden nerves and act like a man, or would he slink off into the storm like a frightened child? Squaring his shoulders, he said as firmly as he could, “More fool them, then, my lady. You promised me a story?”

“I did indeed,” Sarah replied, shifting comfortably in her seat, allowing the flames to be reflected in her eyes so that blazed as though containing the fire within them for an instant. “It is a story you should find interesting, Lord Brunstane. It concerns your family after all.”

He swallowed down his nerves. There was something about this woman that chilled his blood. Hiding that apprehension he replied, “Really? How terribly droll. Well, I must confess that this may make losing my horse and, may I add, stumbling about in the dark seem worthwhile.”

“Yes, I am sure it will.” Sarah continued to openly gaze at Edwin without any trace of social etiquette or propriety. “Our story, and I do mean ours, begins almost one hundred and eighty years ago.” As she spoke the storm outside continued to grow in strength, a distant flash of lightning flickered beyond the window followed a few seconds later by the roll of thunder, while the rain crashed against the window like thrown pebbles. Sarah seemed unaware of the storm while she sank deeper into the shadows of her chair. “Aye, my lord, it was on a night just like this that our story takes place. Back then when people still believed that witches could cast a spell on them, and fairies still came from below the hills to snatch away the unwary, there lived in the hills not far from here a young woman renowned for her beauty. Every man in the area tried to win her heart, Cottar, shepherd, blacksmith, collier and farmer, all took their turn in trying to woo her. She rejected their every offer, content to live on her own terms in a small house on the very edge of Corby Wood. Aye, the very wood you found yourself lost in tonight.” Her emerald eyes surveyed him without warmth as she continued, “Rumours of her beauty spread among people all across the land, and folk began to call her the Maid of Harlaw. It was said that her heart belonged to a man stolen away by the Fae. Or, perhaps, to the Devil himself!” She shrugged slightly with a low chuckle. “People need to know a reason why they cannot win the heart of a woman. If they don’t know the true reason they will invent one.”

“Yes, that is very true,” Edwin agreed with a nod. “But you said this story involves my ancestors?”

“That I did, so listen well. The man who was the Laird of Brunstane at that time heard the rumours and decided that he must see the Maid of Harlaw for himself. He and several of his retainers rode to her simple cottage and demanded she present herself to them. By then she was well used to having men turn up without invitation on her threshold, so she stood before them. All agreed that they had never seen a bonnier lass in all the land. Laird Brunstane decided at that moment that she must become his mistress. He was already married, and in any case, as beautiful as the maid was, she was common born and not fit to be considered as a wife fit for a man such as him. The Maid of Harlaw told the pig that she had no desire to be any man’s mistress and your noble ancestor had best be on his way…”

For a split second the whole interior of the room was illuminated brilliantly by a tremendous flash of lightning. In that single instant Edwin saw the room laid before him as clearly as midday, but he could not comprehend what he saw. The fine furnishings and tapestries had vanished to be replaced by broken and charred ruins, while the air itself seemed thick with the stink of burnt wood. As soon as the darkness returned to the room so too did the familiar vision he had witnessed when he had first entered. Once again the tables, chairs, rugs and wall hangings were all in place, although he was sure that the reek of burning still lingered in his nostrils.

“You look troubled,” Sarah laughed with a bedevilling half smile. “As though you have seen a ghost.”

He shook his head firmly. “It was just a trick of the light, my lady. Please, continue your tale. I am keen to hear what my noble ancestor made of the lovely maiden’s refusal.”

Her dark eyes, sparkling with the reflection of the fire, watched him closely as though reading his innermost thoughts. “This house is old, my lord. It is on nights like this that it remembers just how old it is, the will to hold its stones together grows weak. Aye that is one of the reasons why the locals know better than to set foot within the borders of the woods which surrounds this house.” While she spoke, Edwin became aware of a slow metallic scratching. Tearing his eyes unwillingly from her perfect face, he focused on the door he had entered through. Even in the semi-darkness he could see that a screw securing the door handle was slowly unscrewing itself.

 

*          *          *

 

“That can’t be real?” he said, staring goggle eyed at the sight before him while getting to his feet.

“Sit down,” she commanded harshly. “You have to hear the rest of my tale before you leave.” One hand pointed firmly at his chair and almost unwillingly he found himself retaking his seat while the scratching continued. A moment later he heard the distinct sound of the screw falling to the wooden floor.

Swallowing down the nervous lump in his throat he forced his eyes back towards her while the next screw began its own slow extraction. “The door…” he said weakly, now no longer wanting to see what was happening behind him. “What is going on? Is this some Halloween trick dreamt up by my friends? Damned clever of them I have to say, but it is no longer amusing.”

“A Halloween trick?” Sarah chuckled slowly. “That is what Laird Brunstane said he and his companions desired when the Maid of Harlaw had scorned them. They thought it would be a fine trick to play on her to kick down the door to her cottage and drag her out into the yard. The laird said that she would be his mistress, whether she liked it or not. He had his men put torches to her home and forced her to watch as all she owned was consumed by the flames. Now she had no choice but to come with him. He would give her a room in his own home. His wife would think her no more than just another servant, but her only job would be to warm the Laird’s bed. She was horrified and broke free from those who held her. With a speed born from fear she fled into the hills, but the Laird and his men were mounted. Aye, they chased her down and caught her all too soon. Oh she fought like a demon but they overpowered her.” She shook her head slowly as she continued quietly. “The poor lassie. She was terrified they meant to force themselves upon her. But no, the Laird would not allow that to happen. No, she was to be his, and his alone. With her hands tied with a rope, she was forced to walk behind his horse down into Corby Wood. She had to run to save herself from being dragged through the mud and fallen leaves. That journey seemed like a lifetime to her, but all too quickly they reached the Laird’s mighty tower where those crowing men crowded around her. No’one could know that she was there. That would spoil the game. They smuggled her inside with much laughter and ribald comment, as I dare say you can imagine.”

Edwin nodded, both gripped by her story and the knowledge that something was very, very wrong with the situation he found himself in, as the second and third screws fell in turn from the door. Even while Sarah spoke he could see a crack slowly spreading across the wall behind her. Another tremendous flash of lightning again lit the room. This time his gaze swept the room to see that the burnt furnishing had been reduced to little more than ash as though years had passed since he last saw their ruin. Worse yet, against the far wall were what he was sure were the slumped bodies of at least four men who had not been there before. When darkness crashed back he was on his feet and snatching a burning brand from the fire to stride beyond Sarah to look for them.

While he swung the torch about, Sarah laughed brightly. “Oh do sit down, my lord. You are seeing things. There are no corpses to be found here.”

“How do you know what I saw?” he demanded angrily moving back to stand over her with the burning wood held over her head. “How? I didn’t tell you what I saw. Are you a witch?”

Again her laughter filled the room while dust drifted down from the ceiling above and the walls groaned. “A witch? No, I am no witch you foolish man. Now, please, be seated. I need to tell you the rest of our story.”

Feelings of anger, fear and disbelief seemed to fill his body. For a moment longer he stood over her as though prepared to strike at her with the burning brand before his shoulders sagged. He tossed the wood back into the fire and retook his seat. As he sat he noticed that the armrest was now covered in a thick layer of dust which he was sure had not been there a moment before. The crack in the wall was now almost wide enough to allow the gusting wind to find access through, while the shadows seemed darker and more menacing than they had when he had entered the chamber.

“So your ancestor forced the maid into his house. She was put in a small room down in the cellar where his wife would be unlikely to ever find her. The Maid of Harlaw demanded that she be released. The Laird just laughed. She threatened to have the law come and arrest him for kidnapping her. Again he just laughed louder and said that this was the finest Halloween jest he had ever heard of. He locked her in that small room promising to return later to make her his mistress. The maid prayed that at least one saint would aid her that All Hallows Eve.” The girl sat forward allowing the firelight to play across her features. Behind her voice the noise of stones shifting could not be missed but that did not seem to be of concern to her. “Aye, she prayed to those saints. She only needed one to take heed of her plight. None did.” For an endless moment she fell silent and simply stared at Edwin through air now clouded with falling dust and fragments of mortar. Her green ayes seemed to stare into his very heart as she said, “Later the Laird did indeed return, just as he had threatened, expecting to take his pleasure with her. Sick with fear, the helpless lass grabbed a knife from his belt and held it, not to his throat but to her own, saying she would rather die than allow herself to be used by him. He just laughed again, invited her to destroy herself if that was her wish. Hell awaited those who took their own lives. She wept while the very heavens outside seemed to be trying to pull down the tower, as though trying to release her from where she was held. Wind howled, rain poured and thunder crashed all around. The Laird jumped forward to wrestle his dagger from her hand. In the struggle the blade pierced her heart…” Sarah fell silent, a single tear rolling down an ashen cheek. However, her voice was a firm as steel as she said, “as she felt her life blood pour from her, she vowed that no member of the Brunstane family would ever again sleep peacefully within the walls of that tower. She vowed to haunt them from their home and make sure that they could never again think to treat an innocent person as a pawn in a cruel game. That she would punish the Lairds of Brunstane until she had taken her vengeance on the men of the family to the end of their line.”

As if in response to her words, thunder crashed overhead. Before Edwin’s horrified eyes a whole section of wall tumbled out into the night, taking with it a large section of roof, leaving the room exposed to the full force of the storm. Sarah sat unmoving while wood and stone poured down from the ruined tower.

“We have to leave!” Edwin screamed in a voice thick with terror. He plunged across the room which seemed to sway beneath his feet like the deck of a ship. To his utter horror the door would not open, the handle had joined the screws on the floor. No matter how hard he dragged at the wood it would not budge. “For God’s sake, help me!” he shouted towards Sarah, still sitting by the now extinct fire, who looked at him in amusement.

“You call on God? Did the Maid of Harlaw not call on Him herself? She had better claim to divine intervention than you, my lord,” she said getting to her feet. Behind her the chair decayed as though the span of decades had been reduced to mere seconds. Even as she walked towards Edwin, the tower itself seemed to scream in pain as more sections of wall, roof and even floor tumbled downwards in clouds of dust which were whipped away by the howling wind and lashing rain now pouring across the width of the chamber. As she approached him, Edwin’s back was pressed so hard against the door it was if he was attempting to force himself to pass through the ancient wood. Even as he blinked rain from his eyes he stared in horror to see that not a drop of rain had touched her as she smiled into his petrified face.

“You have yet to hear the end of my tale, sir,” she said softly. Despite the noise of tumbling masonry and savage weather her words reached him easily as she reached out to lay her hand to his chest above his heart. Even through his thick riding jacket, waistcoat and shirt he could feel the bone chilling coldness of her fingers seem to reach deep within him. “The poor girl kept her word. Not a single night went by after her death that the family were not woken from their sleep by noises that none could explain, and shadows that seemed to follow them wherever they went. Within a year the Laird had abandoned his home never to return.”

“It’s you, isn’t it?” Edwin squeaked in a voice higher pitched than an excited girl. “You are the Maid of Harlaw!”

“Correct,” Sarah smiled as her hand squeezed his chest.

 

*          *          *

 

Lord Edwin Jameson, the Laird of Brunstane emitted a low groan. Slowly he opened harlaw-1his eyes and for a moment  struggled to make sense of his surroundings, for he awoke to find himself perched on a narrow ledge of wet, crumbling stone more than sixty feet in the air. Around him stood the broken walls of a long ruined tower house. The fallen walls far below were covered with decades of grass and weeds leaving only the single tall corner where he now sat in a state of anxious fear while the wind played around him. The events of the previous night came crashing back then and he almost screamed again. “Be rational, man,” he tried to tell himself. “This is the age of Reason, not the dark ages of superstition. There has to be a rational explanation!”

He chanced a look downwards from his narrow ledge to see no obvious route to descend, although if he had climbed up here, it followed that he could climb down. “I must have hit my head harder than I thought when I fell off that damned horse,” he said in an attempt to reassure himself and make some sort of sense of the previous night’s events. A blow to the head had to be the reason for his strange dream, he nodded. Nothing else made any sort of sense. Ghosts and tumbling towers? Stuff and nonsense. All he had to do was find a way down to the safety of the ground far below him and then make his way back to Edinburgh. He would be catching the first available train back to London and vowing never to return to this place with its strange dreams and stranger people. Carefully he got to his feet and gazed out across the overgrown clearing where the ruined tower stood. Nothing moved but the grass swaying in the wind. Beyond the ring of trees, the hills of the Pentlands rose towards the blue, grey sky. On the slope of those hills a single figure could be seen clad in white. For a horrified moment Edwin was sure it was the devilish woman from last night’s nightmare until good sense, and the presence of sheep around the figure, told him it was a shepherd in a white smock. Laughing at his own foolishness, and certain it had all been nothing but a dream, he bellowed out ‘Hello‘ and waved his free arm in the hope of attracting the distant man’s eye.

“He won’t hear you,” a voice whispered in his ear, causing him to release his grip. With a single yelp of terror he pitched from his perch. As he fell his last vision, before he met the broken stones far below, was of the beautiful face of the Maid of Harlaw smiling down at him in triumph.

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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.

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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…

THE ORIGINAL CRIME

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.

EVENTS PRECEEDING THE EXECUTION
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.

 

THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN PORTEOUS

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.

 

THE AFTERMATH

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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