Link to Introduction

First time reader? Start here

The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Part One. The Play for Jonathan Crouch. Chapter V. Castling

All the chapter epigraphs are significant, of course, but I especially like the subtle meaning of this one, which only becomes apparent at the end of the chapter. This chapter is a hoot and is often cited as a favorite by many readers because we get to see a very different Lymond in action!

1. Capture of Some Advancing Pieces

This is an expository section that provides a good deal of detail and background on Lymond and his outlaw band through the eyes of Will Scott. 

Will Scott is feeling good. Things are going well and his ambition is about to transform itself from idea to action. 

We learn he has been with Lymond for about a month, give or take some time for a break after the Annan confrontation with Richard Crawford's men. For the first time we find out a bit about what happened. There was a fight and Lymond's men barely escaped. Given Culter's leadership and his men's fighting skills, it is a testament to Lymond that none of his men was seriously injured or killed in the clash. Will is smart enough to recognize genius when he sees it. 

We also learn more about Lymond's band. First, there are sixty men (I think this is the first time we find out how big the troop is). This is a fair-sized band of fighters, each one carefully selected for a particular skill or talent that Lymond has honed to a fine point. I think it's important to remember that there was no standing army but rather men gathered by nobility and large landowners to fight when needed, so sixty well-trained mercenaries represent a formidable force.

What do we learn from Dunnett's introduction of these characters? 

  • They are "rootless," meaning they have ties and loyalties to no one beyond Lymond and, perhaps, each other. 
  • They are a heterogeneous group, that is, their abilities complement each other's. 
  • They are uneducated, probably illiterate to a man (recall that Francis told Will only half in jest that he was valuable to him because he could read and write). 
  • They are "ruffians"--tough, lawless men. Their only law is Lymond's law.
  • They are "unmarked, homeless" men. I think DD uses the word "unmarked" in its old meaning of unnoticed or unobserved, that is, invisible in the way the homeless often are. 
Will probes Turkey Mat for more information about "the Master" and other members of the inner circle. Mat is clear why he is with Lymond: once he gets enough money, he will retire to his little stone house, and for that he can "thole" Lymond, that is, put up with the capriciousness, the foul temper, and the harsh treatment. 

Johnnie Bullo

King of the Gypsies
The mysterious Johnnie Bullo comes into clearer focus as well. Johnnie, you may recall, found Lymond at Boghall and is the go-between for Francis and Christian. But now we find out Johnnie is not a member of Lymond's gang. In fact, he is a power unto himself as King of the Gypsies. Will doesn't understand what Johnnie is doing with Lymond, but Mat understands that Johnnie loves the challenge of matching wits with the Master. Bullo admires Lymond.

Notice that Mat is himself in awe of Johnnie Bullo: "You should see him at work in a fair: it's a scholastic education." Don't you love that? Scholasticism was the predominant form of education in Europe at that time, employing a rigorous dialectical methodology. Johnnie is a genius in his own right.

One other important note about Johnnie: "he has all the old crafts." It's not yet clear what these old crafts are, but keep this in mind as you read.

We learn a number of other important things about Lymond's band. They move around a good deal (not surprising for outlaws), and their present headquarters is an abandoned tower with Will in charge during Lymond's absence. Only Lymond metes out punishment. His formidable verbal skills extend to a "less respectable" form of punishment that involves utter humiliation. It's apparent from everything we have heard about Lymond that he is a very harsh taskmaster and an "unchancy bastard to cross." In short, these hardened reprobates, these mercenaries, these rough men are afraid of Lymond, especially when he is drunk. 

The irony of this will eventually be revealed.

About Will we learn that he follows Lymond because the Master has transformed criminality into an art form. Remember, earlier Will told Lymond he despises the hypocrisy he sees everywhere and admires Lymond's "consistency," that is, he makes no show of virtue. He is as bad as he professes to be. Beyond good and evil, Will thinks he has reached the point where he cares only for the rarefied purity of the perfect crime devised and implemented by Lymond. Will is educating himself for his own purposes.

The Ostrich

The Ostrich inn is mentioned for the first time, as a place not only for relaxation with women and alcohol, but also as an excellent place for espionage and prying information out of unsuspecting English messengers. 

You will notice that we do not find out what Lymond learned at the Ostrich.

It may not be clear in this scene, but the Ostrich is on the English side of the border, so Lymond and his men are slipping back and forth across the border. Lymond also implies to Will that he set up an attack on John Maxwell in order to allow him to rescue Maxwell and gain his gratitude. Thus the allusion to the chess move "smothered mate" (the king surrounded by his own men).

Maxwell is a Scot whose lands are surrounded by the English. In fact, in 1542, Robert Maxwell, John's father, was captured after the battle of Solway Moss and "forced to hand Threave Castle over to the English invaders. It was retrieved for Scotland by the Earl of Arran in 1545," just two years before this story is set. Lymond's reference to the smothered mate could also apply to Maxwell's untenable position on the border with England.

Supplying the Cattle with Toys

Hume Castle from "The Gateway of Scotland"
One of the problems with leading a band of mercenaries and thieves is that they must be kept busy, especially when the beer runs short. This restiveness provides Will his opportunity to suggest his own plan: attack Hume Castle.

Lymond and Turkey Mat talk over and past Will in the way adults often do with children. When Lymond finally addresses Will it is to destroy Will's idea with facts (Hume Castle is too heavily fortified and defended and Lymond is not looking to start a war) and with a personal attack (clean your boots and patch your clothes).

Something to keep in mind: this is one of the first indications of Francis's fixation on cleanliness and neatness. 

It certainly has not escaped Will's notice that Lymond tries to humiliate him by repeatedly addressing him in terms suitable for a small child or, more likely, a sweetheart: Marigold, Peg-a-Ramsey, Hinnysops, Willieken, little pretty boy, and, of course, Wally Gowdy. I find Will's forbearance under these withering insults admirable. It shows Will's maturity and understanding when he doesn't rise to the occasion and react to the name calling. He knows it is all part of Lymond's devilishly effective way of controlling his men, and since Will has his own agenda, he will also "thole" Lymond to achieve it. 

At this point I do not think it would be unjustified to wonder who is the "real" Francis Crawford? Is he the gentle, soulful, artistic, sensitive man we have seen with Christian and the little Queen, or is he the cruel, narcissistic, rude, obnoxious man we have seen with everyone else in every other situation? Even though all of us are complex, contradictory creatures, it is nearly impossible to reconcile these two Lymonds. Something to remember: If he practices evil while professing purity, he is a dangerous monster given his charisma. Any reader would be forgiven if he or she at this point greatly dislikes Lymond.

There is one other thing worth noting about him. Francis Crawford, Master of Culter, has no friends except Christian Stewart. Everyone else, including his mother and brother, seems to mistrust, dislike, despise, or fear him (or some combination of these). And he has done nothing to try to engender good will towards himself, except with Christian (and Sym, who is not his social equal). 

At the close of the scene Lymond verbally flagellates his men for "ten retching minutes" on their recent sloppiness and lax discipline. The "retching" must refer to how the men feel by the end of the tirade, but notice how he turns their nausea into enthusiasm with the promise of beer. Will's grasp of why these sixty hard men follow Lymond explains in part his own reasons for staying: Lymond offers something not one of the men can get on his own. For the band of outlaws, it's adventure and money and beer. For Will Scott, it's a chance to learn from the Master--and then usurp him.

2. Sudden Danger for a Passed Pawn

The Supply Train from Roxburgh to Hume
The planned waylaying of the English supply train heading from Roxburgh to Hume takes place the following evening before moonrise. Lymond's intelligence, no doubt what he learned at the Ostrich, is good. The train is right on time and right where he was told it would be. The one surprise is the addition of oxen to pull the very heavy ordnance wagon. There are still thirty extremely valuable horses ("ten geldings and twenty mares"). "The great leader" springs into action, directing Will to take as many men as he needs to carry out his part. 

Notice Will is to take the "excess"--the prisoners and anything Lymond's band does not want or need--and meet up with Lymond and the others later. Will is not taking anything truly valuable.

It is also worth noting that Lymond orders his men "to disable, not to kill" the men in the supply train. The little twist that is news to everyone, including Turkey Mat, is Lymond's plan to meet near Melrose, which is land owned by Walter Scott, Will's father ("Daddy Buccleuch"). 

Dunnett's description of the unhappy supply train is a wonderful thing to behold...the stubborn oxen lumber with "poached and indolent eye"...the night is "moonless and unsympathetic" (remember, Lymond planned the attack before moonrise to ensure the cover of darkness complete). You can feel the tension as the men in the supply train hear the silence broken, first by a dim beat, followed by a tap that begets others until it is clear horses are relentlessly sweeping down on them. Great writing. 

Rather than an armed assault by his men, Lymond has loosed wild horses on the supply train, but not just any horses: these are all stallions. Now we know the significance of the "twenty mares," who all "went silly" over the arrival of the stallions. In the confusion, it is a simple matter for Lymond's men to descend upon and overpower the English with no loss of life or serious injury on either side. 

The only disappointment in the fine haul is a lack of prisoners worthy of a ransom. Even the supply train's captain, says Lymond, is Spanish, not English. Will enthusiastically takes off with ten men and the prisoners.

William Grey, 13th Baron of Wilton,
"Portrait-of-a-Nobleman" (thought to be Grey) 
by German painter Gerlach Flicke
The Humiliation at Hume

Hume Castle, you may recall, is one of the four sites garrisoned by the departing English. The English are confident it is impregnable, and Lymond himself refused Will's plan to attack Hume because the castle is too well defended. 

Inside the well-fortified castle, all is not well. Lord Grey is still recovering from the embarrassing wound to his mouth that has left him with a confounding lisp. As he tries to say, "Is there no word in the English language wanting an S?"

But good news has arrived in the form of "Mr. Taylor" of the supply train from Roxburgh bearing food, ordnance, money, and most importantly, beer. Will's plan to capture Lord Grey following the explosion inside one of the commandeered carts fails stupendously, and Will ends up beaten and imprisoned by the English. It takes Will a few minutes of sober reflection as the afterglow of the adrenalin rush wears off to come to his senses and realize what he has done: "he had got into Hume...but hadn't the brains or the guts to get out." Worse still, his "exercise in self-expression" has condemned ten other men to death. Will's sole, if insufficient, consolation is that he has refused to tell the English his name and thereby be the cause of his father's further humiliation at the hands of the enemy in trying to save him.

I must admit to admiring Will's spunk in mocking Grey's lisp under the dire circumstances. The young man may lack wisdom and foresight, but he does have a raw if foolhardy courage and sense of humor.

Now the fun begins.

Don Luis Fernando de Cordoba y Avila (fully clothed)
Don't feel bad if you didn't realize the Señor was our own Francis Crawford. This is one of the things he does best: create a false persona. What do we learn about Lymond from this outrageously funny scene at Hume Castle? We learn he speaks Spanish fluently; another language Francis Crawford knows well.
This is a fast-moving, crazy-quilt scene. Here's a quick summary of what happens:
  • A "human tornado" purporting to be the Spanish captain of the supply train arrives at Hume with his men after being found with the remains of the wagons bound, nearly frozen, and naked except for their shirts.
  • "Don Luis" colorfully regales Grey and his men with his tale of personal and professional humiliation at the hands of thieves ("even Lord Grey had to admit the magnificence of his rage").
  • Don Luis gains sympathy both with his outrage and with the physical mortification he has endured, to include being tarred and feathered.
  • "Don Luis" makes sure Grey et al. know his pedigree, something he could not do if Lymond were impersonating an English officer.
  • Through an excruciating give and take in butchered English, "Don Luis" reveals the identity of the supposed leader of the bandits who attacked him as Will ("Oil") Scott ("del Escocia").
  • "Don Luis" talks Grey into giving him and his men horses and clothing (to include Grey's own clothes for himself) and allowing him to return "to Berwick" with the prisoners.
Lymond reveals Will's identity ostensibly to help persuade Grey to let him take the prisoners with him and hold Will for ransom. Keep in mind, Hume Castle is still without the most basic supplies, so getting rid of any extra mouths to feed is a benefit to Grey. Besides, Don Luis has a score to settle with Will and might get more information out of him with "the questioning gooder organized" back in Berwick.

About the Spanish serving the English:
"Since Solway Moss, Henry VIII had employed some 900 of these Spanish mercenaries, under Pedro de Gamboa, to defend the Scottish frontier and to intimidate the widowed Queen Mary of Guise and her French allies, the Spanish troops being distributed along the frontier fortresses until there should be need of them." Spanish Influences in Scottish History
Notice how Lymond distracts the English throughout the entire adventure inside Hume Castle:
  • He uses his fury at being attacked to create a noisy, chaotic scene.
  • He plays to their sympathies through the pain and humiliation of being tarred and feathered (Lymond is willing to suffer physical pain himself to gain his objective).
  • He keeps them off balance by commenting on Grey's lisp and focusing on Grey's use of the word "idiot." 
  • He takes advantage of the fact only Secretary Myles can speak Spanish, just barely, as evidenced by his use of 'embarazar,' which he intended to mean 'hinder' but which can also mean 'impregnate.'
  • He makes a fuss about being dressed to suit his station, which causes quite the kerfuffle among Grey and his men.
  • He ultimately wears them down with his incessant vivacity ("Lord Grey became aware that he was dead tired and another hour of the brilliant señor would undoubtedly drive him crazy").
Aside: Something else we learn during the course of the chapter: Francis Crawford is not a tall or big man. We already knew he was slender and elegant, but I do not think the fact that he is not a tall, heavily built man has been made clear before.

Will immediately knows Don Luis is Lymond because Francis makes sure to stand close to him and look Will in the eye with his distinctive "cornflower blue" eyes...right before he hits him in the mouth (the inevitable corporal punishment for Will's defiance). Lymond and Will use Spanish proverbs to spar with each other. Will's riposte--"a bad master creates a bad servant"--indicates to Lymond that Scott indeed recognizes him. Will also takes the hint from Lymond to faint once the questioning has gone on long enough to wear out the English without revealing anything. Then "Don Luis" not only manages to convince Grey to let him take the prisoners with him, he also convinces Grey to give him horses because Hume is short on food and fodder.

Grey and his men do not catch on to the ruse. The exploding culverins and, later, the brackish water where beer should have been, along with Lymond's wickedly apt note, tell of a masterful deception. But by whom? Grey has only one name to go on: Will Scott of Kincurd, who is surely now a marked man.

The final scene of this astonishingly entertaining chapter is all about the grinding and utter humiliation of Will Scott. In a few short, devastating minutes, he finds out that Lymond knew exactly what he would do and had given his men the choice of staying with him or going with Will to Hume. Even worse, all the men were in on the plan and thought Will was, too. This is the worst form of "spiritual chastisement" Will could imagine: having to play the part of the hero when in fact he has been revealed as a first-class fool. Worst of all for Will, Lymond thinks so little of him that he cheerfully heaps approbation on Will in front of the men. 

The final insult comes when Lymond tells Will, in answer to his question about the captain of the guard, that he was not in fact Spanish. So why did Lymond decide to make his impersonation of the captain of the guard Spanish instead of English?

  • It virtually ensures the English at Hume Castle will not know "Don Luis." 
  • It takes advantage of the fact that, while Lymond speaks fluent Spanish, no one among the English at Hume does. Lymond gambles that there are no fluent Spanish speakers among the English, and his gamble pays off.
  • He can use this linguistic confusion to his advantage.
If Lymond were impersonating an English captain, someone at Hume should know him or at least know of him. It would immediately raise suspicion if he were not recognized. 

The chapter closes with another chess reference, which brings us full circle to the epigraph. Will decides his only course is to be humble and admit he has learned his lesson while Lymond warns him that the next time he pulls a stunt like this he may end up dead ("receiving the Bishop, with appropriate rites"). As the epigraph says, it's important for the Rook (Will Scott) to have men who will run here and there and get into places and cities opposed to the King (Lymond). 

In this wonderful chapter, as in the chess move Castling, the Rook and the King move simultaneously. However, it is the King, in this case, who ends up defending the Rook and, in fact, removing him from the board, so to speak. After all, Lymond risks himself and his men in order for Will to learn a lesson through this escapade. 

However, by the end of the chapter it is clear Lymond had planned to attack Hume Castle all along and simply uses the opportunity of the assault to teach poor Will a lesson. Is there another motive?

Questions to Ponder

  1. When did you first realize that Don Luis was Lymond? Or did you?
  2. What was Will Scott's plan for getting out of Hume Castle (or did he even have one)?
  3. How does Lymond know what Will is planning to do?
  4. Why does Lymond want to attack Hume Castle when he could have gotten the money, ordnance, and beer simply by attacking the supply train?
Favorite Line

"Mr. Secretary Myles, tried beyond endurance, gave a soul-destroying quack." 

Words that Describe Lymond in Castling

  • dazzling
  • outrageous
  • hilarious
  • manipulative
  • authoritative
  • fearless
  • bold
  • imaginative
  • harsh
  • mercurial
  • witty
  • despotic
  • a loner

No comments:

Post a Comment