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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Part Four. The End Game. Chapter I. Twice Taken. 2. Shah Mat

Early-Mid June, 1548

Shah Mat is the Persian term from which 'checkmate' derives. It translates as "the king is helpless" (or broken or defeated). The implication for Lymond is dire, assuming he is the "shah" or king. 
An ebullient Agnes Herries and a sullen, monosyllabic Will Scott inform Sybilla of Lymond's escape from Threave.
Aside: Notice that Sybilla is more subdued ("less fantastic in her manner") than usual. I guess we have a clear idea where Lymond gets his dramatic streak.
Sybilla quickly removes Agnes from the scene so she can speak freely to Will. Why does she not want Agnes to overhear the conversation? Agnes was helpful to Lymond, and Sybilla, drawing her own conclusions about how the escape occurred, no doubt read between the lines of Agnes's story. However, Agnes is still very, very young and can be indiscreet. Sybilla cannot take a chance with her knowing the truth about Lymond's whereabouts. But Will already knows that Lymond was planning to go to Wark to meet Samuel Harvey, and Sybilla tries to shame him into going to look for her son and help him track down Harvey, if possible. Will is still conflicted about Lymond and unsure if he believes him and will help him.

He is not ambivalent about trying to fulfill his promise to Lymond to do whatever is necessary, including conjuring up Shamanism and the Black Mass, to cover for Christian Stewart and save her reputation. Unfortunately, she has gone not to Boghall but to George Douglas's home at Dalkeith, which has just been attacked by the English under Lord Grey. George, the sly fox, escaped but his family did not. Now that's interesting. George slips away but leaves his family behind? Perhaps he believes his life would be forfeit but they will be safe. Or perhaps he is more interested in self-preservation than protecting his kin. Either or both could be true of George Douglas.

In fact, there is a wonderful line from Patrick Fraser Tytler's History of Scotland (quoted in Laura Caine Ramsey's Guide) that says a great deal about friend George:
To be thus overreached and entrapped in his own devices was particularly mortifying to this long-practiced intriguer, and seems to have sunk deeper into his spirit than the loss of either his wife or his castle.
Will is surprised by the news of the English assault on Dalkeith because he thought Douglas and Grey were "on good terms." Sybilla's terse response--"Did you?"--speaks volumes about her opinion of Will Scott's perspicacity, and Will knows it because he is filled with dread (that "sinking feeling" one gets when one is about to be lectured for one's failings). He launches into what is at best a half-hearted self defense, for which Sybilla has no patience. The final insult to Will's injured pride is the fact that Christian, blind though she is and a "girl" at that, has risked not only her reputation but also possibly her life to try to help a man to whom she owes nothing, unlike Will Scott, who was trusted by Lymond and to whom we might believe he owes a great deal. "Not a very clever thing [for Christian] to do," says Sybilla, but brave and bold and true. The contrast with Will Scott's sniveling self justification is stark.

The wonderful short scene between Gideon and the indomitable Kate is pure Dunnett. Here we see a woman as sharp-witted as Christian and just as able to do battle with Lymond. She can hardly believe her husband has brought this creature who forced his way into their home and tormented their daughter back to Flaw Valleys. It is a measure of the trust Kate has in Gideon that she tolerates this intrusion. She knows he would not inflict this on her, much less on Philippa, without a very good reason.

And we get an excellent insight into Philippa's nature when Kate opines that her daughter has probably gotten out the horsewhip (chabouk) to start their unwanted visitor's punishment.

The Legacy
Kate promptly marches alone into Lymond's room, fully prepared for a frontal assault. What she finds shocks her out of her anger. It is extremely rare for us to see Lymond sleeping, especially a deep sleep. Given that he looks like a della Robbia angel when awake, it is easy to imagine how he looks in repose, and Kate finds that her maternal instincts not only awaken but swing into high gear when she sees the beatific face and the bloody, wounded body. 

The Legacy chair is another delightful Dunnett touch. It tells us something about the Somerville family that they kept this monstrosity, no doubt in part out of sentiment but probably more out of a fine sense of the absurd as a kind of familial touchstone and private joke. It certainly fits the moment of absurdity in which Kate finds herself.

Yes, Kate will tend to the broken man. Why not? That seems to be her destiny ("everybody always brings the old broken-down things for me to patch up"), and she knows full well that Gideon is operating on instinct just as she, too, must put aside reason and follow her instincts. This is not how she envisioned Lymond's imprisonment and punishment, but Kate appears quite capable of giving as good as she gets.

Kate and Lymond's exchange seems a promise of an irresistible relationship: two whip-sharp tongues outdoing one another. Lymond was aware someone had come into the room while he was sleeping but was not awake enough to be sure it was Kate. He has certainly lost nothing of his sense of humor and his acute awareness of his physical appeal, as evidenced by his response to Kate's remark that she already had a good look at him: "Why? Are you going to bathe me?" 

In fact, no one except Lymond himself is going to bathe or tend to him. He quickly outwits Gideon's manservant, locking him and everyone else, including the lady of the house, out of his chamber for the rest of the day. 

Lymond continues his malicious flirtation with Kate as she bangs on his door demanding entrance:
Through the thickness of the door his voice came, slow and flippant. "Mistress Somerville! The proprieties!" said Lymond...
Lymond is extremely self-sufficient and loathe to allow anyone to help him when sick or injured. Something to keep in mind.

Lord Grey is back at Berwick Castle on the English side of the border having secured Haddington and taken Dalkeith from George Douglas. The English not only made off with as many possessions from Dalkeith as they could manage to steal, they also secured a number of valuable hostages to ransom, including Christian Stewart. 

Unfortunately for the exhausted Lord Grey, Margaret Lennox is at Berwick demanding to see him. Margaret, recall, was the one who devised the plan to try to gather the Douglases and unite them into a force for the English against Scotland. The plan went terribly awry when the Douglases (including Margaret's father Angus) ended up fighting for the Scots (Pt 3, Ch II). So it is no wonder Grey has no desire to see her again. He thinks that at least he has taught her family a lesson they will not soon forget.

Gideon's wandering attention is quickened when Grey mentions that the French fleet is off Dunbar (about 28 miles east of Edinburgh) while the English fleet is still "fitting out" and probably will still be fitting out at Christmas. 

And now Christian enters, accompanied by Lord Grey's secretary Myles.
Aside: Remember him from the hilarious encounter between Lymond's Spanish captain Don Luis and Grey at Hume Castle? Myles, who does not speak Spanish very well, used the Spanish word for impregnate, causing a further uproar to an already uproarious situation!
Here we get a view of two subtle, quick minds at work, speaking in a few, guarded words right over the heads of Grey and his secretary. From the conversation, Gideon learns that Christian is a friend of Lymond and she learns that Gideon no longer views Lymond as an adversary. Gideon is also able to send Christian a message to be extremely careful and circumspect around Margaret Lennox lest she inadvertently harm Lymond by something she says or does. 

We also learn from Grey, who is totally oblivious to the layered conversation between Christian and Gideon, that Harvey has a leg wound that will prevent him from coming to Berwick and serving as bait for Lymond. 

Gideon leaves in "high good humor for no evident reason," yet anyone who has experienced the intense pleasure of a successful communication against great odds with another human being who is of like mind knows the reason for Gideon's good humor. 

Not in a good humor is Lord Grey in his interview with Margaret Lennox, which is "everything he was afraid it would be." She wants Harvey sent back to London forthwith to make sure Lymond never finds him. Margaret also delivers the news that Lymond has been caught by the Scots, which means Grey really does not need Harvey as bait any longer. Then Grey lets slip, quite innocently, the fact that Christian Stewart was with Harvey at Haddington. He even shows Margaret Christian's letter to George Douglas in which Christian lets George know his services to help Lymond are no longer needed. 

Margaret is determined to find out from Christian exactly what services she has rendered Lymond. Christian, forewarned by Gideon about Margaret's duplicity, is clever enough not to say nothing but rather to say just enough. Christian gives Margaret what she wants: a "simple explanation" for the letter to George. Whether Margaret believes that simple explanation is another matter altogether.

In the last section of the chapter we learn that Margaret Lennox has planted herself firmly in Berwick until she is sure Samuel Harvey is on his way back to London and far away from Lymond. Harvey, however, is not going anywhere. His injury is far more serious than Christian believed and may even be life threatening. Gideon learns all this from Lord Grey and then asks leave to go by his home at Flaw Valleys on the way to Newcastle. Little does Grey (or Margaret) know, nor could he (or she) imagine, who is a guest at the Somerville home at that very moment. 

Gideon arrives at Flaw Valleys on Tuesday, June 19, after Lymond has been recovering there for two weeks.

  1. What does Sybilla hope to gain by shaming Will Scott? He has already betrayed her son. Why does she bother trying to get his help?
  2. Other than her maternal instinct, is there any other reason Kate decides to try to patch Lymond up and treat him as a wounded creature rather than a felon?
  3. Why does Lymond refuse any help or assistance even though he is profoundly injured?
  4. Why is Margaret Lennox so determined to keep Lymond away from Sam Harvey?
Favorite Line
[Kate] "The air is filling in a familiar way with hideous subtleties. All right. Instinct it shall be. After all, everybody always brings the old broken-down things for me to patch up: there's nothing actually new about it."
Words that Describe Lymond in Shah Mat (he appears only briefly in this section)
  • exhausted
  • witty
  • irrepressible
  • sardonic
  • self-sufficient
  • broken, helpless, defeated?

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