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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Friday, April 24, 2015

Part Four. The End Game. Chapter I. Twice Taken. 1. Forced Play Against Time

Ruins of the Lymond Convent
June 1, 1548
Lymond's band is dissolved with his customary heavy handedness when it comes to this group of rogues and misfits. Realizing they will not be happy about the slaying of the golden goose, the Master has Turkey Mat hide most of the men's pay as an inducement to accept the inevitable. And, of course, Lymond is correct when he says the men could not make him stay if they tried. There is a reason beyond his title they call him "Master."

Will is unhappy on multiple fronts. He wants the band to become his, but he is smart enough to realize that is not going to happen. The dissolution means it is time for Lymond to travel to England to meet Samuel Harvey on June 2, that is, time for Will Scott to act. He has been watching messengers come and go at the Ostrich Inn for some time and knew beforehand the end of the band was nigh.

It is interesting that Lymond trusted Will to hide the gold that is the pay of the men "with special claims"--and that Lymond himself does not know where the gold is hidden. Furthermore, Lymond does not guess that Will has hidden the gold in the convent where his sister died until they have already passed it. This seems unlike Lymond, who is almost always several steps ahead of everyone, especially Will Scott. Has he actually come to trust Will? I don't think so. Has he dropped his guard? So it seems, but the question then is why? Why is he so distracted?

Lymond is in no doubt whatsoever that Will has betrayed him (and Turkey) to Andrew Hunter. Did Will figure Turkey Mat's life into his bargain with death? Will seems willing to die himself if need be, and Lymond sounds as though he means it when he says "if I were alone I'd say throw and be damned." But at the last moment, Lymond takes the offensive when Will's eyes are momentarily diverted to follow the sword that Lymond throws across the floor. And the Master would have subdued his well-trained pupil had Will not hidden a small knife on his person.

What is Will's motive for the betrayal? He tells himself repeatedly, even obsessively, it is because Lymond is a cold, calculating killer, a murderer of "girls": "Kill girls! He could kill girls..." Will seems to have a morbid fascination with Lymond's relationship with females: Christian is a "girl" Lymond has used and abused. Mariotta he mercilessly bullied and killed her child. Eloise is the sister he murdered and even now seems to feel nothing for. Even Margaret Douglas has been treated crudely and cruelly by the Master. However, I believe Lymond's analysis of Will's motives is far more incisive and does in fact lay out a true one: revenge.
"...revenge ... for every doubt and indignity and misery that Scott had suffered [at Lymond's hands]."
It is also important to remember that Will still believes Lymond is planning to sell him to the English, which is also a powerful motive for betraying the Master.

"heartsease quailed under their hoofs..."
Will does not know until Lymond is brought out of the ruins if he has killed his former leader or merely wounded him. The injury to Lymond's shoulder is not serious enough to shut Lymond's irreverent, sardonic mouth.

The contrast between Will and Lymond is stark: both are dirty and injured and disheveled, but Lymond retains his cat-like cool while Scott's every emotion plays out on his face.

I would be remiss if I did not call attention to the beautiful, expressive language of this section's penultimate paragraph, which describes the countryside and the convent, "wearing the nimbus of its injuries like a coronal," as Hunter's men take the injured Lymond and Turkey Mat away.

In the last chapter we found out that Lymond had been substituting his messages for Will Scott's, thanks to Sybilla's intervention. However, Will has managed to communicate on his own with Hunter (probably using the Ostrich Inn), as Sybilla learns at the convent. She sends Johnny Bullo to warn Lymond, but he is too late. Remember, however, that she has the presence of mind to tell the Ballaggan messenger to suggest Hunter take his captive to Threave castle, the home of Agnes Herries and John Maxwell, now Lord Herries. These are people who will definitely be sympathetic to Lymond and may even try to help him.

Asmodeus depicted as a goat ridden
by a witch holding her familiar (the cat)
Lymond's painful silence on the ride to Threave is broken when Dandy Hunter says something. But what does he say that sparks the reply from Lymond about not being Asmodeus, the king of the demons, most especially the demon of lust and the destroyer of marriages? Dunnett does not tell us; perhaps Hunter says something to Lymond like, "Well, the least you could do is to apologize for your horrid behavior." Doesn't that sound like something Dandy would say?

Hunter understands Lymond's classical reference, which explains why his face goes from red (angry) to white (guilty). The color drains out of his face because Lymond is implying something extremely ugly about Hunter's relationship with Mariotta. But Dandy is cool enough not to rise to Lymond's provocation. Immediately after this Lymond throws Mariotta's name out to Hunter. Once again, Lymond shows he knows there has been a relationship of some sort between Dandy and Mariotta.

Will Scott also blurts out another of his reasons for betraying the Master, that is, his conviction that Lymond was about to betray him to the English if Will didn't betray him to the Scots first. Before Lymond can reply, Turkey Mat foolishly and tragically seizes this moment to escape.

Hunter's men enjoy the chase and the kill, and Dandy is hardly bothered at all that a man is dead. He apologizes for Turkey's death to Will, not to Lymond, because he holds the Master in complete contempt. Turkey wants to know from Lymond if Scott prevented his escape, but Lymond tells him that he chose not to take the opportunity Mat gave him to break free. Turkey Mat's death is so pointless and sad it is easy to imagine how this wounds Lymond. I do not think it is giving anything away to say it will not be the last death for which he blames himself. At least Turkey dies with a "pleased look, as if a sunny beach and a flat board and a pair of celestial dice had manifested themselves among the leaves." He comes across as a man who lived his life at full tilt and died without regrets.

Threave Castle
Dunnett's ominous description of Threave is shockingly visceral, comparing the
stench of violence there with the powerful, feral odors of frightened, angry animals. Scott is relieved John Maxwell is away and that he and Hunter will have Lymond as their prisoner to humiliate and torment until Buccleuch arrives. However, Lymond has other plans, and quickly gets the hostile crowd on his side using his own brand of irreverent humor and wit, which is, "like Cupid, a notorious locksmith." Lymond's plan to disarm the crowd ends abruptly after ten minutes, and he goes mute. But why? We are left to wonder for now.

Peine Forte et Dure Torture
The easy laughter and enjoyment of their prisoner quickly turns very ugly in the face of his silence, leading to the horrendous scene of torture using the application of increasingly heavy weights. Dunnett describes Lymond as "capriciously vain" but not foolish, meaning he would bear the pain as long as he could but he would not purposely risk his life. At this point Will almost misses the flickering of Lymond's lashes as he briefly looks upward beyond the crowd. Will does the same, and there he sees Christian.

Now everything happens in a whirlwind. Buccleuch and his men arrive, Christian and Sym push through the crowd to confront him about his "whelp's" behavior, Christian forces her way to Lymond while Sym removes the chains weighing the Master down, and Christian confesses she knew who Lymond was all along: "I've known your voice since I was twelve." What an impression it must have made on the lass!

The yard erupts in the kind of ribald laughter Lymond has desperately tried to prevent to avoid tainting Christian by any association with him. He tries again, desperately, to dissociate himself from Christian by mocking red-headed women. By now, the captain and the crowd know their sport has ended, and Lymond is released to be taken to a "fine, dry cellar" of a prison. Before he can move from the place of his torment, and to Will Scott's surprise, Lymond faints. The way Lymond cups his face in a "gesture of half-comic resignation" shows he is in control until the last possible moment before his strength gives out, but even he has his physical limits, and this situation is too much for him.
Will Scott cannot make up his mind what side he wants to be on, much to the fury of his father, who never takes much to provoke him anyway. Buccleuch's solution is to stick his son in the cellar with Lymond, a rather neat punishment and one Will deserves after his betrayal. Will fights every step of the way to his prison because, as Dunnett says with her usual wit and understatement:
There is nothing very jolly about being locked in a cellar with a man whom, in every possible sense, you have just stabbed in the back.
Andrea della Robbia: The Announcing Angel
With his "very thews melted with apprehension," Will discovers Lymond at his ease, stretched out like a cat, "impeccably neat" (as always), with all that was unsightly removed from his appearance. Furthermore, his face was that of a "Della Robbia angel," something to store in the back of your mind for future reference.

And Will Scott is about to have the very large and horny scales drop from his eyes in ways he never imagined or suspected. Now that all his plans have been thwarted and there is no longer any way for him to get to Samuel Harvey, Lymond at last clues Will in on what has been going on. The fact that he did not trust Will with this information before now is a measure both of Lymond's general lack of trust in others and his specific lack of trust in Will Scott, which the day's events appear to justify. You could make the case that Lymond might have avoided this fate if he had shared the truth with Will, but the Master is a great judge of character, and his judgment is that Scott is too emotional, too conflicted, too immature, and too unpredictable to be trusted with the truth.

Certainly, Will's sketch of Lymond's character in this scene supports this conclusion. What claims does Scott make?
  • His father would have protected Turkey Mat.
  • Lymond "hates women" in general.
  • Lymond wrecked the lives of four women (Christian, Margaret, Mariotta, and Eloise).
  • Lymond has hunted "poor Harvey" like a thing from beyond the grave.
  • Lymond betrayed his country by selling the letters Will copied to the English.
Of course, not one of these claims contains an iota of truth, a fact that we observe as it slowly works its way into Will's consciousness. We learn, for example, that Lymond orchestrated Will's "escape" from the tower with Mariotta:
"I leave you to work out why, having seduced my sister-in-law and slaughtered my nephew, I should keep coy silence while you shuffle downstairs at three in the morning with that bantling-brained romantic done up in an oatsack."
Oops. One can only vaguely imagine how Will Scott feels by the end of this encounter, but surely even Will would agree that Lymond's description of him fits all too well:
"You pathetic, maladroit nincompoop, you're never right; but this time you can squat in your misconceptions like duck's meat in a ditch, and let them choke you."
Near the end of the section, Lymond refers to the earlier moment when, as they are leaving the Ostrich Inn after a night of madcap and riotous activity, he encourages Will to look up at the "teaching stars, beyond worship and commonplace tongues. The infinite eyes of innocence." (Pt 2, Ch I) Will was deaf to Lymond's offering that first time. Has he heard him now? Will he understand what he is being offered? Has he had a moment of epiphany and learned something about himself and, more importantly, about Lymond?

Aside: Once again, I recommend Laura Caine Ramsey's guide to The Game of Kings when reading the exchange between Lymond and Will, which is packed with allusions ranging from the Malleus Maleficarum to Norse mythology.

The Night of June 1, 1548

John Maxwell is a clever man. He cannot lift a finger to help Lymond and must be seen to be on Hunter and Buccleuch's side; hence the congratulatory note on Lymond's capture. Enter the redoubtable Agnes Herries, sent by her husband, "as was fitting," to see to the guests. All the guests. Watch how Agnes manipulates these men like a pro. First, she storms in at eleven at night, waking Buccleuch and demanding an explanation for Will's incarceration with the "desperate man" in the cellar. As only Agnes can, she argues and contradicts and harangues until Wat Scott gives up and agrees to let his son out of the cellar. Will is more than willing to oblige, but he does not do so quickly enough for Agnes when he sees that all his father's men have been replaced with Maxwell's. Agnes will have none of his loitering and sends him to bed with a "vigorous impatience" and a loud thud of the trap door banging shut. What the heck just happened?

Now we know: Agnes not only leaves the trap door unbolted, she has the utter gall to scold Will for being the one who failed to lock Lymond back in! Will cannot contradict the lady of the house, whose own men will confirm her story (of course). Furthermore, Will's father accepts Agnes Herries' version without question in part because he believes his son wanted Lymond to escape and in part because he cannot imagine Agnes would let a desperate rogue out of his prison in her own house and then lie about it. All Will can do is quietly accept the censure and try to find Lymond.

Agnes once again proves her mettle. Atta girl, Agnes!

June 2, 1548

At last, Sybilla and Mariotta talk to each other. It has been a long time coming and the Dowager Lady Culter is loathe to broach the subject of her son's marriage to Mariotta, but the anxiety of waiting without a word about Lymond's fate pushes Sybilla over the edge. She has clearly been wanting to say these things to her daughter-in-law and this seems like as good a time as any. At least it will divert them both!

I find it fascinating that Sybilla uses Janet and Buccleuch as an example of a marriage that works, but it makes sense. First, Mariotta knows them both well and has had ample opportunity to see Janet in action with a man far more stubborn and dense and far less sensitive and caring than Richard. Surely if Janet can manage to have so much influence on Wat Scott and "manage" him so fluently, Mariotta's task with Richard should be far easier. 

The other example--the Maxwells--shows Mariotta the opposite extreme from Janet and Wat. Janet is anything but a romantic, whereas Agnes created a fantasy that John Maxwell played into, with Lymond's help. But both Agnes and Janet share something in common: both are intensely interested in their husbands and understand what each man values and wants the most. This, Sybilla makes clear to Mariotta, is what she has not done. She really has taken little interest in Richard, has learned little of the man she married, and really does not understand what he values and wants and needs. Fortunately, Richard's mother is wise enough to tell Mariotta just enough to help her without telling her so much that she makes Mariotta want to give up.

What Sybilla says about Lymond and Richard's relationship is very, very telling:
"Your tragedy was that the man you became involved with was the very person who created the flaw in Richard's maturing. And if that was anyone's fault, it was probably mine..."
How revealing. And, at the same time, how unrevealing. There is a flaw in Richard that has hindered his growing up and Lymond was the cause. Mother (possibly) blames herself. That's all we know from what Sybilla says--not what Richard's flaw is; not what Lymond did to create it; not what Sybilla did or did not do to instigate the sibling rivalry, if that is what this is. All things to ponder and keep in mind as the future unfolds.

When Christian finally arrives at Midculter, Tom Erskine is there and about to have the shock of his life. We already know that Christian recognized Lymond from their first encounter at Boghall; now we find out that both Sybilla and Christian have been working--separately, it appears--to help Lymond. Sybilla worked out fairly early on that Christian recognized Lymond and was helping him. The "keenest ears in Scotland" belong to Christian, who was present when Lymond appeared at Monteith as the monk and told little Queen Mary the riddle, which was one invented by none other than Sybilla. Also, let us not forget that Sybilla has had contact with her younger son through intermediaries, so she most likely knew about Christian's assistance through those sources.

One of those means, in addition to Sybilla's "normal thought processes," would be Johnnie Bullo, with whom Sybilla expresses disappointment for turning out to be "rather much of an individualist," but she does not elaborate. One thing we definitely know about Johnnie is his propensity to gossip, which leaves little doubt he would have enjoyed telling Lymond's mother about what happened between her son and Christian at Boghall.

And then there is Samuel Harvey, a name mentioned not only by Christian but also by Richard and Andrew Hunter, tying all three of them to Lymond in different ways. Christian does not know the whole story of Harvey, but she knows George Douglas is involved somehow, so she is determined to see him and, "by persuasion and threats," make him help Lymond. Hmmm. How well does she know friend George? Not well, if she thinks either persuasion or threats will move him to help. George will require something that appeals to his self interest.

Tom is not so easily swayed, viewing Sybilla's attempts to help Lymond as natural maternal instinct. But Christian's behavior has him flummoxed. Why would she knowingly help this outlaw? It is left to Sybilla to explain the inexplicable to Tom, that is, Christian's own natural instincts to help a "lame duck" and right an injustice are just as strong as her maternal leanings. Sybilla points out what Tom already knows: Christian is neither someone easily gainsaid nor someone easily beguiled. Furthermore, Lymond is, according to Sybilla, an "artist in the vivesection [sic] of the soul" because he has been the one under the knife for the past five years.

Sybilla leaves Tom and Mariotta (and us) with the puzzling comment that Lymond is "probably the only person in the world now who can restore Richard to any sort of terms with his own future" and send Richard back to Mariotta. The latter claim is easily understandable because Lymond can convince Richard as no one else can of his, Lymond's, total indifference towards Mariotta. But just how Lymond can restore Richard to his future remains a mystery to be revealed.

Sunday, June 3

This is the day after Lymond was to meet Samuel Harvey in Wark. He arrives at Wark Castle too late. Harvey, a busy man, is gone. Gideon Somerville initially thinks Lymond's tardiness is an indication that he did not really care about the meeting and, worse, that Lymond is drunk, when in fact, he is exhausted from traveling at a breakneck speed on foot from Threave carrying with him all his injuries. Once Gideon realizes Lymond's true state, he immediately puts him to bed in good, practical Somerville fashion.

June 4
The next morning Lymond is in a far better and cleaner state and spouting all manner of obscure quotations, much to Gideon's annoyance, which leads to one of Dunnett's most cited and beloved lines:
"I wish to God," said Gideon with mild exasperation, "that you'd talk--just once--in prose like other people."
And then, amazingly, Gideon gets his wish after one more "malicious" quotation from Roger Ascham, a noted Protestant, which leads to Lymond's comment about Luther, whose views were not surprisingly deemed heretical by the Scottish Parliament. Now Gideon and Lymond have a serious, straightforward (by Lymond's standards) conversation about the potential benefits of an alliance between Scotland and England. Probably the clearest explanation of these events comes from Dunnett herself early in the book:
Henry, new King of France, ... felt his way thoughtfully towards a small cabal between himself, the Venetians and the Pope, and wondered how to induce Charles [the Holy Roman Emperor] to give up Savoy [in the Western Alps and strategically important to France as a gateway to Italy], how to evict England from Boulogne, and how best to serve his close friend and dear relative Scotland without throwing England into the arms or the lap of the [Holy Roman] Empire. (Opening Gambit)
Here's the situation in brief. The English control Boulogne in northern France just south of Calais, which is also under English control. The French want it back. Earlier in the book, Buccleuch says there is a rumor that the French and English will "promise neutrality" towards Scotland if the English agree to give up Boulogne (Pt 2, Ch 1). Now Lymond opines that France might sell out Scotland in return for the English surrender of Boulogne, even though he does not think so.

As an Englishman, Gideon is worried because Scotland keeps getting outside help from "the dregs of Europe" and attacking England by injecting these foreign fighters "into our backside." Worse, the Scottish ambassador to France, David Panter, is working for a separate peace between Scotland and the Holy Roman Emperor, something neither England nor France would like. Meanwhile behind Scotland's back, France is trying for its own separate peace with England.

Lymond points out to Gideon one of the major stumbling blocks for any peace between their two countries, that is, under Henry VIII Scotland suffered terribly and that suffering has bred a deep hatred of the English by the Scots. Nonetheless, the Scots Commissioners keep reopening talks for a marriage between England's boy king Edward and little Queen Mary whenever the country feels threatened.

The Queen Dowager of Scotland is plotting to keep the Scottish Governor Arran quiet by promising to marry her daughter Queen Mary to his son while she is simultaneously planning to bring more French into Scotland. But Lymond argues that the French are stretched too thin to effectively rule Scotland, so Scotland would be better off under France, which is separated by distance and rough waters, than under England, with which it shares a very porous border.

Edward VI of England
by William Scrots, c 1550
Lymond also alludes to the dangers of religious warfare, "the bloodiest emotion" he knows, the ultimate in the "honest emotion" of hatred that Henry VIII so effectively showed to the Scots and which they reciprocated. Despite his claim to the contrary, Lymond does offer Gideon a solution: let little Queen Mary leave Scotland and grow up in France, where there is no religious conflict; let Mary of Guise have the power in Scotland and "keep the throne warm" for her daughter; go ahead and arrange the marriage between England's Edward and Mary of Scotland so that, if both sides behave themselves, the contract will be honored when the children come of age. 

Sadly, Gideon acknowledges that this "intelligent" approach is not going to happen because the Protector's own position is "shaky" and he cannot afford to do anything to undermine his tenuous hold on power, which Lymond's plan would.

But Gideon is impressed, very impressed, by Lymond's clear, unemotional, logical understanding of the situation, which makes him curious why Lymond is not providing these insights to "his people" in Edinburgh. Gideon has figured out that the "one woman" who has caused and continues to cause Lymond trouble is Margaret Douglas. This was not hard for Somerville to discern given his interesting encounter with the Countess of Lennox in London in April (Pt 3, Ch IV). Unfortunately, injecting Margaret into the conversation causes the "barrier of nationality" to fall between them and the "shutters" that had momentarily opened close again.

Now for the interesting part: Gideon will arrange another meeting for Lymond with Samuel Harvey on his way back from Haddington. But until then, Gideon has to find a safe place for Lymond, and the only place he believes will ensure Lymond's security is the Somerville home at Flaw Valleys. Lymond experiences what is for him a very rare emotion: he is taken aback and completely perplexed by Gideon's plan. He "should dearly like to know why" Somerville not only trusts him enough to arrange another meeting with Harvey but also has enough faith in him to leave him alone with his wife and daughter in their own home.

Gideon understands his rationale no better than Lymond: it is "something that Gideon did not even know clearly himself." It seems that Lymond is not the only person who is a fine judge of character and an excellent reader of men.

  1. Why does Lymond say everyone finds Dandy Hunter "irresistible"?
  2. What do you think Hunter says to Lymond to provoke his response about Asmodeus?
  3. According to Dunnett, Will Scott knows very well why Turkey Mat bolted. Why did he?
  4. What did Johnnie Bullo do that disappointed Sybilla by showing he was "rather much of an individualist"?
  5. What is the "flaw" Lymond created in Richard?
  6. Why does Gideon Somerville decide on what seems to be the spur of the moment to trust Lymond enough to allow him to wait at Flaw Valleys for the meeting with Harvey?
Favorite Line
"I wish to God," said Gideon with mild exasperation, "that you'd talk--just once--in prose like other people."
Words that Describe Lymond in Forced Play Against Time
  • preoccupied
  • really furious (with Will)
  • surprised
  • sardonic
  • deeply saddened
  • disgusted
  • disappointed
  • exhausted
  • worried
  • resigned
  • perplexed
  • snide
  • guilty
  • passionate
  • dispassionate


  1. I'm glad to see an update. I've just started re-reading Game of Kings and your blog posts are really helpful and thought-provoking. Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts!

    1. Thanks, Klaudia. I appreciate the feedback--sorry to have slowed down. Life, sadly, intervenes! I hope you enjoy GoK even more than the first time. I find it improves upon closer familiarity and inspection. I am rereading the House of Niccolo series now and it's also quite the ride.

    2. No worries about the update speed. Life does tend to get in the way!

  2. Hello, Found your blog for my third reading of Gok. Found them so very helpful......might there be more? Annie

    1. Hi, Annie...yes...I really need to get back to this. I've been working on other writing projects and also participating on the WONDERFUL Dunnett blog at

      Please come join in if you haven't already.