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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Part Three. The Play for Samuel Harvey. Chapter III. Mate for the Master.

Lymond and four women: Molly, Mariotta, Agnes, and Christian. Notice how he treats each of them very differently. 

1. A Bereft Knight Is Checked by His Own Side (about March 8, 1548)*
*Richard has been "seventeen days in the field." The battle with the English took place on February 21 and 1548 was a Leap Year. This may not be the exact date wrong, but it's close.
Sybilla and Christian are still with the sulky, convalescent Queen at Dumbarton when Richard finally arrives there looking to apologize to Mariotta. Sybilla is more anxious and vulnerable than we have seen her before. She knows things that Richard does not and it falls to her to deliver some very unpleasant pieces of news and point out the potential consequences of his further obsessive pursuit of Lymond.

Richard has not thought through the implications of his bringing his brother "to heel." It has not occurred to him, as it has to his mother, that his "unreasonable hatred" of Lymond brought to full blossom in Lymond's destruction will "convict Mariotta publicly of deceit." I am reminded of George Eliot's Middlemarch, when Casaubon stipulates in his will that Dorothea will lose her inheritance if she marries his cousin Ladislaw. What does this do but "publicly convict" the blameless Dorothea of an improper and dishonorable relationship with her husband's cousin? Sybilla is pointing out that this is what would happen to Mariotta as well: it would confirm in the public mind that there is an illicit relationship between her and Lymond where none in fact exists.

Sybilla now exhibits one of her few errors in reading others, an error Christian instantly detects: Sybilla offers to have Mariotta found, removed from Lymond's sphere of influence, and returned to Midculter. What she does not count on is the depth of Richard's anger, the strength of his pride, and the extent of his long-smoldering resentment of Lymond. Lymond, the irrepressible, infallible little brother with "success at the end of each of his pretty fingers" always got and still gets the love of all of Richard's women, including, most importantly, his mother.

Richard even goes so far as to claim that Lymond murdered their sister. Remember, Lymond said to Christian back at Boghall (Pt 1, Ch VII, Part 2), "If I told you that I had murdered my own sister..." First we have Lymond positing that he might have murdered his sister and now we have Richard claiming he did. This terrible scene is mercifully interrupted by two pages announcing the Queen Dowager wants to see Richard right away.

When Christian moves to comfort Sybilla after Richard leaves, the Dowager is described as having "pretty fingers" just like Lymond's. Hands are very important to Dunnett, who had a painter's eye for such details.

Mary of Guise looking none too
pleased with Richard
Richard is so thoroughly consumed with his own hurt and outrage he flouts the Queen Dowager's command that he go to Edinburgh to buck up that wobbly frog with his wits in his belly (Arran), which is all the pretext Buccleuch needs to suggest Richard be locked up. It is interesting that we do not see this remarkable scene between Mary of Guise and Richard Crawford, but instead hear it told by the always colorful Wat Scott, which greatly enhances the humor in an otherwise very tense and unhappy situation.

The question remains: why did Buccleuch want Richard out of commission at this time? Wat and Richard just recently had a huge, friendship-ending dispute when Crawford and his men showed up at Buccleuch's rendezvous with Will. Wat is not above exacting his revenge, but he also does not want Richard's obsession with Lymond once again to threaten his son and family. He sees this as a nice cooling off period for Lord Culter.

This presents Sybilla the perfect opportunity to ride south, with the Queen Dowager's permission, of course. Where and why she is going we do not yet know.

Meanwhile...Gideon Somerville cannot get out from under the thumb of his English overlords. This time Lord Grey wants Gideon to travel with him to London to see the Lord Protector. In the meantime, Grey has ordered the border lords to continue to harry the Scots and keep them from retaking the forts now in English hands.

Molly, looking as if she has been
attending decumbitures all her life.
Lymond at last returns to the Tower at Crawfordmuir to discover what "all of Scotland" already knows about Mariotta. He missed the entire drama of her arrival, subsequent miscarriage, the surgeon's visit, and Molly's nursing. Molly again proves her value as one of Lymond's spies. She tells him that Will Scott met with Andrew Hunter at the Ostrich when he came to retrieve her to attend Mariotta. Hunter stayed at the Ostrich a week "for no very good reason" and asked a lot of odd questions. Molly gives Lymond an account of Dandy and Will's conversation but, alas, we are not privy to it. All we know is that Molly believes Hunter is potentially a problem for Lymond and, thus far, Molly has never been a problem for Lymond.

Isn't it interesting that Lymond waits a week at the Tower before seeing Mariotta? In part it is because Mariotta is still weak and ill, but the wait only helps embellish his aura of mystery and power in Mariotta's mind. She has created a fantasy like a glowing halo around Lymond, a man she has seen exactly once. When he finally comes to her, his appearance is not as she remembers: this time he is tidy and sober. Mariotta is surprised when Lymond tells her he is sorry to learn she lost the baby, undoubtedly because in her fantasy he wants her for himself and no heir for Richard. Then she surprises Lymond by telling him she left Richard. When she tries to explain why, she finds it very difficult, except for the issue of the jewels.

But Lymond will not be put off: he wants to know exactly what Mariotta and Richard quarreled about. Although we do not hear Mariotta's recital of grievances, we can easily imagine that they are not nearly as terrible once told as they were in her imagination. They are, to use Dunnett's own characterization, an exercise in naivete from beginning to end. Lymond's words and reaction are contrasted to Mariotta's: as he speaks, his eyes are seraphic and "supremely adult." Lymond even tries to show Mariotta that he has given Richard cause to hate him and to hunt him down, such as the fire at Midculter, which she has conveniently forgotten. Add to this the jewels Mariotta told Richard came from Lymond and her own blatant infatuation with his younger brother and you have a big enough stew pot of jealousy and resentment to drive any man into a rage.

Now that he has heard her tale and knows how things lie, Lymond changes his tone and tactics with Mariotta. He assumes the cold, brutal persona of a man interested only in revenge on his brother and taking what is his, by getting rid of the heir and giving Richard grounds for divorcing Mariotta. In short, Lymond paints for Mariotta the exact picture that is in Richard's mind all the while insulting her (her brain is smaller than a chick-pea). Of course, Lymond's icy recitation of his complaints against Richard evokes from Mariotta a remarkable about-face--a wounded defense of her husband--to which Lymond responds as only he could.

He, like Christian earlier in the chapter, refers to Richard's deep interest in the welfare of his pigs: "I thought we would be shikk to shikk, indivisible, like Richard and his piglets." This makes me laugh out loud it's so funny. I can't help thinking Dunnett had "dancing cheek to cheek" in mind when she wrote this sentence. Mariotta, however, finds nothing humorous about this or anything Lymond has to say. All her pretty fantasies are dashed to bits in this one terrible interview. Which is exactly what Lymond wants to achieve.

Shikk are demons mentioned in the Arabian Nights that are half a human being, divided "longitudinally" (vertically), so when Lymond describes Richard and his piglets as "shikk to shikk," he conjures up an image of a creature that is half man and half pig.

Why Lymond's about-face with Mariotta? He starts off as Good Lymond, with care and concern, talking to her like a normal human being. Once he has heard her tale of grievances, he instantly turns into Bad Lymond: cold, calculating, cruel, vicious. Why? Because he wants Mariotta to stop viewing him as if through a hagioscope, that is, with a squinting, narrow, distorted view. He wants Mariotta to see he is not some dashing hero come to her rescue. She needs to know in no uncertain terms he has zero interest in her except as a means of hurting Richard and that his bad reputation is well deserved.

Before jumping to the conclusion that Lymond means Mariotta ill, it is best to recall he exchanged his truly valuable prisoner--Margaret Douglas--for Mariotta, who has no value to him as a hostage whatsoever, and he initiated the exchange without hesitation.

The soft-hearted Molly, of course, scolds Lymond for his performance for Mariotta. Molly, taking literally Lymond's suggestion that Mariotta would fare better sharing her grievances with Will Scott, sends Will up to sit with Mariotta that night. It's the last anyone at the Tower sees of them both, and Lymond is none too pleased that Will has taken off with his sister-in-law. At least that is how he behaves, but Molly, remember, has never caused him any problems, so one is left to wonder if this isn't another Lymond ploy.

Argyll pipers do get around, don't they? Remember it was an Argyll piper who played so memorably at the Ostrich when Lymond plotted with John Maxwell (Pt 2, Ch 1) Now Hunter has a "chance encounter" with him? Not likely in Dunnettdom, I'll wager. We also learn what Molly's girls overheard: Will and Hunter exchanging views on whether and how Lymond might be selling Will out to the English. Will expressed his suspicions and Dandy offered what he knows, that is, Grey wants Will, and Lymond has been seen twice near George Douglas's house.

All this Dandy is helpfully relating to Wat and Janet Scott. Now notice: Janet interjects that Dandy did not know Lymond has (or had) Mariotta. How does Janet know this? Obviously, she has been talking to Dandy before this conversation with her husband, but the circumstances of Janet and Dandy's discussion are a mystery. One thing is clear: Janet's scheming goes on. Buccleuch misses this point altogether and is just glad that Hunter is so kindly offering to help him recover his son.

Spring, 1548

The gateway to Holyrood, built
by James IV, 1503
The wedding of John (Jack) Maxwell and Agnes Herries, orchestrated with such care by Lymond finally takes place at Holyrood Palace, and Lymond is there to offer his congratulations and a gift.

Maxwell knows his new wife well: he introduces Lymond not by name, which he must not, but as the man who saved his life at Durisdeer. Ah, ha! Now we know a bit more about that memorable action Lymond undertook at Durisdeer, saving Maxwell from Harry Wharton's sword. What could be a more thrilling wedding gift to Agnes than to meet another real-life knight in shining armor? Maybe a brooch set with angels' heads and worth a fortune? Probably not. She has wed the hero of her dreams and met another even more dashing, mysterious hero bearing costly gifts. Quite a nice start to a marriage for a little girl with a face like melted candle wax full of teeth!

Lymond adds another feminine conquest to his supposedly long list of adoring women (according to Richard).

The brooch. In Pt 1, Ch 4, Dandy Hunter presents his mother with an hugely expensive and garish brooch with diamonds set in angels' heads and carved in onyx. This brooch certainly seems to be the same one: diamonds, angels' heads, and onyx. File this for future reference.


I recommend Laura Caine Ramsey's guide to The Game of Kings when reading the exchange between Lymond and Christian, which is packed with allusions ranging from the Old Testament to one of the first English comedies.


Christian is also at Holyrood for the wedding and has answered a summons she supposes is from Tom, who is expecting an answer regarding his offer of marriage. But it is Lymond, not Tom, who has arranged this meeting. Her reaction when she hears Lymond's voice tells us that she remains in a state of emotional and spiritual turmoil over him. Their playful verbal combat continues apace, each using a rapier wit and each in turn deflecting the other's rhetorical thrusts.

We learn that Christian knows the names of the three men Lymond has been seeking, presumably from Sybilla but possibly from other sources. She did not offer them up in the gypsy tent when she brought Lymond the news about Crouch's whereabouts, so she may have uncovered the other two names later. She is uncommonly well informed. Notice that she instantly figured out that George Douglas is Lymond's convenient intermediary in securing Samuel Harvey.

Epaminondas clutching the
javelin to his breast
Christian makes an interesting comparison between Lymond and Epaminondas, the Theban general who, according to legend, was wounded by a spear in battle. He clutched the point of the spear to his chest long enough to learn of the Theban victory against the Spartans, knowing that when the spear was removed he would die. Christian suggests that Lymond may be in part responsible for his troubles by clutching his problems to his "evil chest" like a javelin tip, but he succinctly rejects the idea that his affairs would be any better if he did not. I think this is an important insight into Lymond's character: he believes he must clutch his troubles to his evil chest and suffer the consequences. He is not being completely facetious when he tells Christian that he has been "gifted with a surfeit of Satanity," that is, he is inherently evil.

There is an abrupt shift in Lymond's tone when he addresses Christian by her name and warns that his plans may or may not turn out well. And now, here it is: the farewell. Lymond tells Christian in a way she will understand without having it spelled out for her that there is no future for them as anything but acquaintances, and that, only if all his plans go well:
"Whatever you touch will return warmth to you and whoever you share it with will be twelve feet tall like St. Christopher."
In short, Lymond is telling Christian she will not be sharing her warmth and her life with him.

Even though he hopes Christian will not regard him as insensitive, Lymond thinks it is important to state the obvious: if Christian had not been blind, she would never have had this adventure with him. Her reaction is very interesting: this experience, quite apart from making her more tolerant of her blindness has turned the years of quiet, desperate acceptance into a rage against the darkness. It has made her acutely aware of what she has missed. Of all men, only Lymond has shared the thrill of adventure with her, and then only because she could never see his face.

And now he is gone.

Sybilla is back, but from where? Richard has been released for the wedding festivities. Sybilla admits to Christian that she is frightened. Then she adds, "My sons sometimes seem so much stronger than I am." This is an interesting juxtaposition of thoughts. I think Sybilla is frightened by her sons' strength in part because it means she cannot influence them as she has hoped and in part because of the inherent danger in two strong men violently opposing each other. Neither will yield.

Is it also possible that Sybilla is sending Christian a subtle message about Lymond with that comment? Lymond is strong enough to walk away from "a woman ... with a familiar spirit," someone rare enough to be his match and possibly a mate for the master? I am not sure, but what we do know is that immediately after this scene, Christian accepts Tom's proposal. I think this meeting with Sybilla somehow finalizes Christian's decision to accept Tom.

Of course, Tom, as second son, is the Master of Erskine, just as John Maxwell is the Master of Maxwell. Lots of mates for Masters in this chapter.

Dunnett's description of Richard is another perfect example of why she is simply the best.
The third Baron Culter had the sort of pride that makes a man walk straight back to the place where he has been publicly undressed and dare the universe to look down on him.
We learn so much about Baron Culter's character from two sentences: his pride is strong enough to carry him right back into the lion's den looking all the while like an emperor instead of a victim. Just like Lymond. Dandy Hunter takes advantage of the situation by approaching the scandalized Richard and offering to broker a rapprochement between him and Buccleuch.

The deal is too tempting for Richard to refuse. Will knows Lymond is going to betray him and has sent Dandy a message saying he knows how it is to be done.

Once Richard and Wat Scott patch things up (sort of), they examine Will's message:
  • Lymond plans to ride east to an unspecified location.
  • At this location Lymond will secure Samuel Harvey from George Douglas and Lord Grey.
  • Once Lymond gets Harvey, he will send a message to Will to join him.*
  • When Will arrives, Grey will take him.
  • Will proposes in his letter that when he gets the message from Lymond he will notify his father.
  • Buccleuch, Culter, and their men will descend on the rendezvous spot and take Grey, Douglas, and Lymond.
  • Meanwhile, Will Scott will find his own way home.
*It is not at all clear how Lymond will get a message to Will unless he takes one of his own men or perhaps Johnnie Bullo with him. However, he cannot risk letting one of his men know he is betraying Will, and Will would never respond to a message delivered by a stranger. 
The discussion now turns to the hostages that Wharton killed after Maxwell turned on the English and joined the Scots at Durisdeer. This is one of the consequences Jack Maxwell was weighing (Pt. 2, Ch. III) when deciding whether to fight on the Scottish side. This was a particularly difficult discussion between Maxwell and Lymond. It was Lymond who laid out the choice brutally and succinctly: "Save the Carlisle chickens, and you let the Stirling stables burn." At Lymond's urging, Maxwell chose to fight with the Scots and thereby win Agnes Herries (and her title and property). The price was the lives of half his hostages. An ugly choice, but it is important to recognize that Lymond wanted Maxwell to make this choice and in so doing, he condemned a number of innocent men to death. Lymond can be ruthless.

Buccleuch has the right of it: "We're seeing times ... that crack the very marrowbone of tragedy."

In the final act of the chapter, Sybilla, playing the Foolish Mother, tries one more time to get Richard to see reason regarding Lymond and Mariotta. Now we know where she went when she left the castle. She went to the convent at Culter to see Mariotta. Richard, unconsciously aping Lymond's posture when Sybilla last saw him at Midculter, does not want Mariotta back, but it does not seem he has considered the possibility that neither does his wife want him any longer.

Poor Sybilla. One son a hunted and hated outlaw wanted for a capital crime. Another son bent on capturing and/or killing his brother. A marriage between son and daughter-in-law in collapse. The loss of her first grandchild. All the calm order of her life destroyed, with only more pain and suffering on the horizon.

  1. Why does Sybilla ask Christian to join her when she confronts Richard knowing he will detest airing family secrets in front of an outsider?
  2. Where did Lymond get the brooch he gives to Agnes as a wedding gift?
  3. Lymond encounters Molly, Mariotta, Christian, and Agnes in this chapter. Which important woman who appears in the chapter do we not see him with?
  4. Why does Lymond decide not to pursue a romantic relationship with Christian?
  5. By urging Maxwell to side with the Scots, Lymond directly contributes to the death of the hostages at Carlisle. Is Lymond simply heartless, as Maxwell suggests in an earlier chapter, or does he have other motives?
Favorite Line (one of the classic Lymond quotes)
"All I ask in this world," said Lymond a shade grimly, "is half an hour when I don't know what I'm doing; but no one has granted me the privilege yet."
Words that Describe Lymond in Mate for the Master
  • Cold
  • Cruel
  • Calculating
  • Unkind
  • Concerned
  • Solicitous
  • Sardonic
  • Sober
  • Inquisitive
  • Ruthless
  • Charming
  • Ingratiating
  • Self-deprecating
  • Playful
  • Serious
  • Sincere
  • Honest

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