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The River Clyde

The River Clyde
The River Clyde Near Midculter in Lanarkshire

Friday, May 5, 2017

Part Four. The End Game. Chapter II. The Ultimate Check 3. The Last Move

Saturday, June 23

We witness a shift in mood and tone as marked as any imaginable when Lymond, brimming with his usual wit and an unusual vivacity arrives back at Flaw Valleys. Lymond compares himself to a persistent cat (we know he is feline in appearance and grace) when he throws out a line from a fable, the moral of which is expressed in these two lines:
Let the door be shut in his face,
He'll come back through the windows.

This is an exact quote from a Jean de la Fontaine fable, The Cat Metamorphosed into a Woman (Recueil 1, Livre 2, Fable 18). Fontaine lived in the 17th century, but his fables were mostly drawn from classics, including those of Aesop, Phaedrus, and the Indian fabulist Bidpai (Pilpay). This particular fable has mixed origins, as do most fables.

But Lymond also refers to himself as porcine when he says he is "adhesive as St. Anthony's pig," referring both to the faithful pig that never left the saint's side and also to the expression “to come back more times than Saint Anthony's pig,” which derives from the tradition of saving one pig per litter, ensuring that the pig shows up at church every year to be blessed. Again, the implication is that Lymond is a "bad penny" that keeps turning up.
St. Anthony's Pig from
Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Lhor, Moselle, France
Lymond's "ebullience" makes the situation with Christian that much more terrible:
It was worse than Somerville expected: it was frankly damnable. ...
As he expected, Lymond took the news undemonstratively, in answer to his training; however much the flesh might shrink and melt, the sarcophagus was decently void of temperament.
"The sarcophagus": the stone coffin in which Lymond has ensconced himself through years of harsh experience and training. How tragic!

What follows is some of Dunnett's most powerful, emotionally charged writing in all her novels. Few eyes remain dry during and after reading the deathbed scene.

As in the previous section, Dunnett contrasts the beauty and serenity of the environs with the ugly tragedy of Christian dying:
The music room was filled with sunlight and the smells of warmed wood and fruity earth from Kate’s pot plants. They passed the lute and rebec and the fiddle and harpsichord sealed in silent jubilee...
Kate again impresses not only with her compassion but also with her ability to quash her natural reactions and curiosity "with a prompt if temporary thumb."  She shows us again her affinity with Lymond.

The exchange between Lymond and Christian is perfect, and it seems almost a sacrilege to comment on it, but I will hazard a few thoughts.

Dunnett shows us the similarities at the core of Kate and Christian when she writes that Kate takes "quiet and efficient note of [Christian's] quiet and efficient messages." Lymond continues this "quiet and efficient" manner when he slips in so softly that Kate does not hear him. And he "efficiently" answers Christian's one regret that she is dying without anyone of her own: “Don’t be so superior. Someone of your own is here."

Lymond's kind but subtle words evoke Christian's tears, and she replies:
“It’s witchcraft. You are about to babble like magpies and herring gulls.”

The chattering of magpies were ill omens to the Scots, as recorded in Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, p. 214, and Discovery of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot. And in Witchcraft & Second Sight in the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, there is a section on Witches as Gulls (p. 42-43). All these books are freely available through

The Magpie
Lymond cannot help himself. He has to assure Christian and himself that she understood what happened at Threave and how deeply and desperately he now wishes he had never involved her in his efforts to find Samuel Harvey. Christian makes it clear to Lymond she fully understood why he spoke to her as he did at Threave (to protect her reputation and possibly her life and liberty). Lymond is in full self-flagellation mode, saying he has been a "joyless jeweller up to the last, exquisite drop from the crucible." The phrase "joyless jeweller" comes from a medieval English poem, Pearl. It expresses the deep despair of a man who lives while the one he loves resides "glad and bright/In Paradise, of strife unstrained...."

But Christian will have none of his remorse, saying she regrets nothing, except, perhaps:
I mourned a little because nobody would ever point to a page of history and say, ‘The stream turned there to the right, or to the left, because of Christian Stewart.’ You could make that come true for me, if you think you owe me anything. And you could promise me not to retreat to a wine barrel and reduce what we’ve both done to a few artificial bubbles of regrets and self-blame. 
Christian understands the threat to Lymond after she dies, the self-recrimination that might well lead him to the bottom of the wine barrel, or worse. He frightens her with his quotation from Dante's Inferno (Canto II, lines 91-93), in which Beatrice explains why she is unafraid of entering Hell to speak with Virgil: the fires of Hell do not touch her. Christian's strong, negative reaction must indicate she thinks Lymond means he is unafraid of the fires of hell and damnation (remember, he is excommunicated) and possibly implies he might take his own worthless life. This interpretation is supported by the next exchange in which Lymond retracts his statement and, despite not understanding why Christian thinks his life is worthwhile, he does not have the "puny effrontery" to throw away all the two of them have worked so hard to achieve, sadly at the cost of Christian's life.

Christian has already referred to Lymond's fortune telling in the tent (Pt 1, Ch VII, Sec 2) when she says, "You prophesied yourself that I should have all I wanted from life, did you not?" What a sad irony that Lymond's prophesy of Christian's future should end this way, in enemy territory on Kate Somerville's bed with only a stranger and a wanted man for her final comfort.

 Lymond and Christian's sad, sweet final conversation veers to other shared secrets: Lymond's "brilliant pose of anonymity" and the fact Christian knew all along who he was; the open coded letters to Agnes Herries, which Tom burned for Christian. 

"Glossa interlinearis" is explanatory annotation of text written between the lines. If Agnes had been older, more literate, and more experienced, Lymond's message inside the message would not have worked. 

Finally, as Christian begins to fail, she tells Lymond of her last secret, her crowning success--Samuel Harvey's signed and witnessed confession. Lymond leaves Christian's side just long enough for Gideon to show him the papers, which Lymond brings to Christian. He praises her ability to extract such a confession, amazed she could do so short of torture. Christian, dying, craves reassurance this is all Lymond had hoped for. And then the hammer falls on us: the pages are all blank.
Then Lymond picked up Christian’s hand and carried it to his lips, holding it afterward folded in both his own. “More than I ever dreamed of,” he said— and like the serpent she had once called him, snarled voicelessly into Kate’s eyes as she looked up, horror-struck, from what the girl’s lifted hand had left revealed. 
With nothing more than the look on his face, Lymond threatens Kate to keep silent. He will not let Christian die knowing she utterly failed to give him all that he had hoped for, more than he ever dreamed of. 

Now we know why Margaret Douglas uttered that "curious sound, so close to a laugh" in the last section when she opened Christian's saddlebags: she saw the pages were all blank. 

Christian is soothed by Kate's presence, and Kate, always compassionate, stays quietly by her side while Lymond goes to play for Christian. Christian refers to the song Lymond never finished for her back at Boghall, the song about "the unfortunate frog." This occurred in Blindfold Play (Pt 1, Ch 2), and was the song that opened the floodgates of Lymond's memory during his bout of amnesia. The two have come full circle. Now it is Christian who is injured and needs Lymond's music to help her.

But he does not choose a silly child's song. Rather, Lymond sings a chanson with lyrics by Clément Marot. The essence of the words is this: while you live, I will never leave you; when you are dead, I will never forget you. It must have been a performance of incomparable grace and power and beauty, because Kate, a woman of strength and will, "shrank beneath the onslaught of its message: the fury of hope and joy that towered in the notes, outburning the sunlight and outpouring the volumes of the sea." The song is Lymond's final gift to Christian and the vivid expression of his grief that such a life should end on a sorry note of deception. Someone switched the confession with blank pages.

Christian's death in the midst of this glorious cataract of sound was as she wished it: "purposeful and successful; the last struggle unseen by anyone but Kate, and laying no bridle on the living." Lymond, for his part, "had promised Christian music for her minion and outrider, and he kept his promise." Christian's "minion and outrider" were her servant and escort into the land of "milk and honey," into Paradise.

When Lymond tells Christian she shall have "music to sound in a high tower," he is quoting a description of paradise from The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which goes on to say that the rivers of Paradise "run milk and honey."

Lymond's very bad day is about to get worse. Richard, Tom, and the Erskine men approach: "like Ulysses perhaps their ears were tingling with the music of the sirens." Kate does not know who these men are, but she is "infinitely more afraid of the immobile man at the keyboard." He says nothing when she tries to offer comfort until he breaks once again into song. This time it is the "unfortunate frog" song that we know from Capture of a King's Pawn (Pt 1, Ch I, Sec 3) is closely associated with Francis and his brother. At that time, Lymond and Richard were in a potentially deadly confrontation, while Tom's men were on their way to assist Culter. Yet again, we are come full circle, but this time the "frog" seems to be in trouble and the "duck" is about to take his revenge, just as happens in the penultimate verse of the song:
Then came in Dicke our Drake,
humble dum, humble dum,
And drew the frogge euen to the lake,
tweedle, tweedle twino.
Richard's dramatic entry into the music room starkly contrasts with Lymond's earlier appearance at Christian's side. Lymond's entrance was so quiet and gentle even Kate did not realize he was there until he spoke. By contrast, Richard enters, smashing the door like an avenging god, "a primitive figure, of pantheistic and dreadful force." Where Lymond was almost incapacitated by grief and guilt, Richard is exultant and thrilled to have cornered his quarry at last. 

Dunnett has slowly, oh so slowly, revealed Lymond's true nature to us, but always we saw the kind, compassionate, gentle, caring man behind the brutal, callous, crude façade whenever he was with Christian (or the little Queen). His concern for Christian and his reaction to her fatal injury show us a man who is quite capable of at least one kind of love: agape. Agape is selfless love, the love in 1 Corinthians 13:13: "And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love [agape]," translated as "charity" in the King James version on the New Testament. In spite of Lymond's best efforts to mask his true self, Kate Somerville, a shrewd observer of human nature, is no longer fooled.

Fighting every human impulse to cry out, Kate remains still and silent, seeking to infuse Lymond with her calmness. She succeeds. All Lymond wants to do at this moment is tell Tom about the tragedy of Christian's death and then get out of the Somerville home and leave the family--and Christian--in peace. Richard, in the throes of a delirious passion about to be fulfilled, will have none of it. He behaves atrociously, mocking the redoubtable Kate as Lymond's lover and her own bedroom as their love nest. He goes so far as to smack Kate so hard with the flat of his hand as to knock her to the floor and bruise her cheek (it is the first time Richard has ever hit a woman). Neither Lymond nor Kate succeed in stopping Richard from throwing back the bed curtains to reveal Christian's corpse.
Over their tawdrinesses grieved the benign detachment of death.
This is how poor Tom Erskine learns of his fiance's death. Richard, naturally, jumps to the conclusion that Lymond has killed his lover Christian and therefore must die here and now:
“I’d neither foul a cage by capturing you nor offend justice by taking you to Court. Covet the sunshine: you are dying.”
Kate and the now-present Gideon try desperately to convince Richard of Lymond's innocence in Christian's death, but Richard simply recites the list of his brother's damning behavior towards Christian. Lymond, keeping his cool in an almost superhuman fashion, says he will go quietly to Edinburgh to stand trial, pointing out that Richard could find himself in legal jeopardy if he kills him. Both Lymond and Gideon also argue that Wharton and Grey are nearby in Hexham, and should the English show up at Flaw Valleys, Richard, Tom, and the men with them do not have a chance.

Note that Lymond, even in the excruciating circumstance of Christian's death and a vicious verbal barrage from his brother is worried for Richard's safety and even his life should Richard execute him without trial.

Richard ignores everyone. He is planning a trial by combat. Lymond says he will not fight and even points out the psychological benefit to Richard of a trial: "Think how deliciously prolonged it would all be.” Richard again ignores him; he knows Lymond will fight.

In the meantime, Kate goes to Tom Erskine kneeling at Christian's bedside in silent grief.
Then he raised a face curiously blurred, as if the subcutaneous fat had melted and recongealed in his grief.
Kate tells Tom the whole story of Christian, Lymond, Samuel Harvey, the papers--and Margaret Douglas. At the end Tom wants to understand why she did it. The best Kate can offer is that Christian liked to help anyone, especially one perhaps undeservedly branded as a blackguard. Kate can only tell Tom what she saw and heard: nothing but respect and kindness, nothing untoward, nothing "of guilt or offence in anything they said. And more than that. It was you I was to tell of her regrets, and to you I was to give her love." Kate is impressed by Tom.

Dunnett gives us new insights into Gideon Somerville's character. Intelligent and deep, Gideon suffers from an affliction not uncommon among such types: indecision and self doubt (the "Hamlet syndrome"). He has stood by and watched shallow men of lesser intellect become leaders, men of action making decisions that affect others, such as himself, who feel helpless to chart their own destinies. He regrets this passivity most deeply on a day such as this.

But in this situation, Gideon reasons he must step aside and take no action other than to make sure his family are safe and out of the fray. He is if not content then he is at least resigned to let events unfold as they will, and he is relieved when Tom Erskine appears and takes charge.

Once again Tom warns Richard of the potentially dire consequences for him unless he has evidence against Lymond that their quarrel is something more than a private matter. Richard offers him the proof: Lymond is carrying papers that reveal the Scottish plans to spirit the little queen out of Scotland to France. In short, Lymond is once again a traitor. Of course, Lymond denies this and points a finger at Adam Acheson, George Douglas's courier, who the Scots found with only two letters from George, both concerning the fate of his sons, now in English custody. Acheson placed the mysterious third letter, which he had opened and read while Lymond slept, into Lymond's baggage to incriminate him. And it has.

Citing Lymond's right to hear all the charges against him, Erskine demands that Richard also list his private reasons for the trial by combat. They are terrible, even including the killing of Richard's son. None of this will spur Lymond to fight. Richard presses on, saying they must all assume Lymond is guilty of all these crimes, both public and private.
“You can assume,” said Lymond, stirred at last into straight speaking, “that I’m trying to prevent you from getting your bloody throat cut; that’s all.” [emphasis added]
Once again, Lymond is exclusively concerned with protecting Richard. However, Richard finally says something that spurs Lymond to fight: the accusations that he laid a finger on Christian or had anything to do with her death. Lymond will not fight to defend himself or his reputation. He only agrees to fight to defend Christian's honor and virtue.

Lymond's reference to a "tin-foil trial" sounds like an anachronism, but it is not. Tin is one of the most ancient metals; in fact, tin was mixed with copper to create the alloy bronze--hence, the Bronze Age. But tin itself is too soft to have many uses, and tin pounded into foil would be flimsy, just like this proposed trial.

Despite Lymond's promise, it was going to happen, and it was going to happen here at Flaw Valleys.

I must pause here and say a few words about the sword fight. It is widely acknowledged as one of the most magnificent pieces of writing ever and possibly the single best sword fight ever put to paper. I almost feel I am desecrating the scene by discussing it. I can add nothing to it. Read it and read it again. You will never read better and probably never read its equal.

A few more comments: Erskine has to threaten Richard to complete the necessary oaths. Richard claims he has no right hand, and Tom calmly says he has the power to make that literally true. This moment gives us profound insight into Tom Erskine. In fact, the whole chapter does. He is a resolute, strong, unflappable leader. It is no wonder he impresses Kate. Christian would never have agreed to marry a lesser man.

The oath requires Richard and Francis to touch their right hands while placing their left on the Bible. Richard refused to grasp his brother's hand: he "touched the proffered hand with the tips of his fingers, his left hand on the book between them so that their joined arms made the required cross, and his eyes were anarchists in the community of his hands." [emphasis added] Watch for the symbolism of the cross to recur.

Once again, Dunnett interjects the peaceful, quiet beauty of the day and the room into an otherwise violent, ugly scene:
[Erskine] paused, looking up at the brilliant windows and Kate’s bright chestnuts beyond. A goose, frowning, marched across the grass. Inside, the sun prinked and patterned the floor, aureoled the two white-shirted men, standing widely separated, and fell upon itself, reflected in the steel, with redoubled kisses.
 Both men are kissed by the sun as if it were their lover. Can writing be any better than this?

Lymond toys with Richard. He is not fighting, he is, once again, play acting. All through the first ten minutes, Lymond chatters, moving easily from one quotation and allusion to another. He insults Richard. He makes fun of him. He even provokes some in the audience to laughter. Lymond himself experiences one of his moments of barbarous hilarity:
Lymond said once, in a breathless voice curiously close to laughter, “He’s twice the size of common men, wi’ thewes and sinewes strong..."
Richard gradually realizes Francis is not fighting. He tests his theory by laying himself open to attack and, as Richard suspects, Lymond refuses to capitalize on this opportunity. At this moment, a new crisis occurs: Acheson has escaped. Lymond tries to convince everyone to let him lead them to Acheson, arguing that the courier knows the contents of the letter and is heading to Hexham to share them with Lord Grey. Acheson must be stopped. Only Lymond is familiar with the road to Hexham and the location of Grey in the town. Erskine sees the necessity of trusting Lymond, but Richard will have none of it. He does not believe Lymond would do anything except lead the Scots into an English trap, and he is still in a white-hot fever of revenge and hatred, threatening to kill any man who tries to interfere with the combat.

Richard knows he finally has the motivation to make Lymond fight: "The way to that door is through me." Lymond takes his brother's offer, displaying an air and a voice none of these men had ever experienced. Artist that she was, Dunnett describes the beginning of the genuine combat in artistic terms:
It was as if some flawed and clouded screen had slid from the air, leaving it thin and bright; informing the white figures and pale heads, fair and brown, with an engraver’s beauty of exact and flexible outline, and lending a weightlessness and authority to their art.
The beauty, always the beauty, in right there before our eyes even in the midst of loss and anger if we just look with clarity of vision and mind. The fight is thoroughly cinematic--the whole scene plays out before your mind's eye even if you know nothing of sword fighting. You can see the room--the tall windows and the window seats, the ropes delineating the arena, the failing light--and hear the held breath of the audience and the rasping breathing of the combatants. The sweat running down their faces, the skittering hose on the floor, the clash of metal on metal. All of it fairly leaps off the page and into the reader's imagination.

Lymond makes one near-fatal mistake when Richard is able to knock his dagger from his hand. But Lymond recovers and works his way purposely down the long room to his pack. Richard and the observers believe Lymond is exhausted (he is) and thus making a critical error (he is not).
Lymond stepped back into the trap. The cloth caught him; he stumbled, and Richard, with all the power of his shoulder, brought three feet of accurate death to cleave the fair, unsettled head. It fell on a crucifix of steel.
Here is the cross imagery again.

Lymond's maneuvering himself into the "trap" was part of a careful plan to disarm his brother, grab his baggage, throw it out the tall window, and escape. Masterful.

Two more things to notice. Lymond almost met his match in Richard: "perhaps for the first time in his life, Lymond also was stretched to the limit..." This tells us Lymond is a swordsman almost beyond measure because Richard is one of the best, possibly the best, in Scotland. Second, once again Lymond employs a child's rhyme in speaking to Richard after he disarms him: "Handy Dandy prickly prandy..." Lymond subconsciously appeals to Richard's memory of their childhood, presumably a far happier time.

A brief interlude in the music room between Gideon and Kate follows as the Scots exit Flaw Valleys leaving behind Lymond's unmarred rapier and victory. Gideon asks Kate how good an Englishwoman she and and she says, "not very." Neither Kate nor Gideon is going to lift a finger to help Grey against the Scots who have just left their home in shambles. There are diverse possible interpretations of the Somervilles' lack of, for want of a better term, patriotic fervor, including their innate desire to avoid embroiling themselves in politics and the fact they are both extremely impressed by Francis Crawford and Tom Erksine. Interestingly, Philippa is the one who pointed Richard and Tom towards the house where Lymond was attending the dying Christian. Philippa's rancor towards Lymond has, if anything, increased since his fateful inquisition of the child.

The scene shifts to the chase: Lymond chasing Acheson and the Scots chasing Lymond and Acheson. Dunnett masterfully evokes the hot, dry day: "grit-blasted socket of the sun, following the wisp of dust...a baked and unprinted crust of hills...The dust of whin and seeding grass, of baked earth and broken pollen attacked and burned them..."

During the grueling ride Tom observes something important about the Crawford brothers.
It struck him that today’s disastrous encounter between the two had done nothing so much as reveal how brilliantly alike the brothers were. It further struck him that if they did approach any closer to Lymond, his job was to prevent Osiris from being destroyed by brother Set.

Osiris as the Moon God
The fact that Erskine's mind runs to the story of Osiris and Set is fascinating. Osiris was king of Egypt. His younger brother Set was jealous of him and did not command the respect of those on earth or in the underworld. Set murdered Osiris and usurped the throne. Osiris' wife Isis rescued the pieces of Osiris' body and posthumously conceived a son (Horus) with him. Ultimately, Horus defeated Set, became king, and Osiris was resurrected. What I find interesting is that, on first glance, I assumed Lymond was Osiris and Richard Set, but I do not believe that to be the case. Osiris is the older, "the king" (the Baron, in this case) and Set the usurper. Tom's thought processes make sense: he knows Lymond has the ability to destroy Richard. Notice he does not say murder, but destroy. Richard's killing Lymond would destroy Richard and the entire Crawford family. Erskine knows he must keep the brothers apart for both their sakes as well as for the sake of Scotland. If you need any more convincing, consider this: Set was the god of chaos, disorder, and storms. Sounds a lot like Lymond, doesn't it?

Richard is at the end of his endurance and drops back, giving Tom a chance to ensure he goes alone to find Lymond and Acheson. Erskine realizes that Richard's rancor has not ebbed with his energy, and he would interfere with the primary--the only--mission: to stop Acheson from delivering the message about the Scots' plans to remove the queen to France. Richard's hatred has blinded him to the urgency of the mission, and he would readily commit fratricide should the opportunity arise. Lymond, it should be noted, passed on the chance to kill Richard.

Tom watches as Lymond desperately but unsuccessfully tries to catch up with Acheson. Once the failure is apparent, Tom leaves, ordering his men to wait two hours only and to keep Richard Crawford from following at all costs. The section ends with Tom's well-hewn sense of irony in his observation that the building in which his men are to sequester Richard is a dovecote. Doves are well-recognized symbols of peace, love, and the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps surprisingly, Acheson is unperturbed by Lymond's arrival. After all, Acheson has no "political reason" to mistrust him and is only irritated that Lymond delayed his arrival in Hexham. In fact, it is remarkably convenient that Lymond has reappeared to be delivered to the English. Has Lymond found the opened dispatch Acheson hid in his baggage? Probably not since, to Acheson, it appears that Lymond bears him no grudge. So it comes as a shock when Lymond pulls his weapon and stabs him in the chest. Saved by the chain mail under his outer garments, Acheson barely escapes Lymond's second attempt to kill him by means of his horse's hoofs.

Meanwhile, in the confusion Tom bluffs his way into Hexham, waving the cover that had contained the dispatch to Grey. Acheson and Lymond are both in the Abbey. Tom knows his chances of leaving Hexham alive are slim, but his primary concern at the moment is "whether he had to assassinate one man, or two." Erskine is still uncertain where Lymond's loyalties lie.

Inside the abbey, Tom works his way quickly but carefully to a hiding place on a ledge overlooking the transcept. Peeking between the tapestries,
Candlelight fell on his fingers, and animated conversation sprang to his ears with a paralyzing vigour. Then a known voice, Lymond’s voice, beating home some fragment of rhetoric, said startlingly, “I can give you one name that you can’t give me: cuckold, Lord Lennox!”
The long final section of the chapter starts back in time to let the reader experience what was occurring inside the church while Tom Erskine gets into Hexham and finds his way to the abbey. 
Hexham Abbey Church
The "sour and surly waters of incompatibility" are swirling inside the abbey: Lennox, Margaret, Wharton, and Grey all have good reasons for their irritability and irritation with each other. Not one of them wants to be there, but we were told that "half the English army" is in Hexham, where Grey is picking up reinforcements from Wharton. Margaret came to meet her husband and bring her hostage Christian with her in hopes of exchanging her for Lymond. That is undoubtedly the "annoying tale" Margaret has been regaling them with. 

Then, "at the unlikeliest moment, the fish had swallowed the hook." Lymond is brought in, battered, disheveled, and "roughly as humble as Shishman, Emperor of the Slavs," slayer of dragons. Lymond claims that it was Acheson who told him about the deal to exchange him for Christian, but we know this is untrue. George Douglas told him of the ultimatum, so Lymond is protecting George. George was not supposed to tell Lymond of the planned exchange; George was only supposed to get Lymond to follow the trail of Samuel Harvey into the English trap. Instead, George told Lymond Harvey was dead and that Christian was being held as a pawn to be exchanged for Lymond. Margaret is put a bit off her game by the thrill of cornering her prey because she fails to ask Lymond how it is that Acheson supposedly knew about the deal to exchange Lymond for Christian.

All Margaret wants now is for her husband to slay Francis, but everyone else there wants a piece of Lymond. We are treated to a litany of Lymond's crimes against each of them. Grey simply wants him taken out and hanged, but these others vociferously object, giving Lymond his chance. He takes over the scene like a master of ceremonies instead of a condemned prisoner, mocking them for not displaying "English unity." Even Grey, the most level-headed of the bunch, is drawn into debate with Lymond.

When Grey starts to chastise the Douglases, Lymond, "playing for time," smoothly inserts a comment about the Lennoxes. In it, Lymond mixes Biblical and Greek mythological allusions to make his point. A "Dead sea apple," also known as a Sodom apple, supposedly dissolves into ash or smoke when picked. An apple figures prominently in the Greek myth about the judgment of Paris. Paris of Troy was ordered by Zeus (who knew better than to get in the middle of such things) to judge among three goddesses who would win a prize apple inscribed "to the fairest." Each goddess promised Paris a reward should he choose her. He selected Aphrodite because she promised him Helen of Troy...and the rest, as they say, is history.

So how does all this apply to the Lennoxes? Here's what Francis says:
"A Lennox pressed is a Dead Sea apple, held by London instead of by Paris; and for the richest, not the fairest."
Put Matthew Lennox under duress and he crumbles into ash. And he is now under the control of the English instead of the French (he is good at switching sides), but most of all he is under the control of his wife Margaret, "the richest, not the fairest": she is no Helen of Troy, but she might just cause a war. So many insults packed into one little sentence.

Lymond keeps up his tirade against Lennox, playing, always playing for more time to hatch and enact a plan. Lennox and the others may be frothing with anger and venom, but Francis Crawford is not. All this is play-acting again with a definite purpose in mind: to stop Acheson from telling what he knows about the Scots' plans for their queen.

Now we are back to the point at which Tom Erskine arrives on the scene. Lennox is just about to assault Lymond when a new player literally inserts himself between Matthew and Francis. Henry "Hot Helmet Harry" Wharton appears, and he, too, has to be restrained from killing Lymond.

At this point, the reader might reasonably ask, why doesn't Lord Grey, who is the senior person in the room, just let one of these people kill Lymond and be done with it? The question is not addressed, but I think the answer is an obvious one: Grey is "Field-marshal and Captain-general of the horse, Governor of Berwick, Warden of the East Marches and General of Northern Parts on behalf of His Majesty King Edward VI of England." For all his faults, he represents the English king and he does not condone murder. He wants Lymond hanged in accordance with English law.

Still playing for time, Lymond keeps up his steady stream of insults, now directing them towards Harry Wharton. We learn about another incident involving Harry. Lymond and his men captured Harry and cut off his beard and his hair at Durisdeer using his own knife. This had been alluded to earlier, when Lymond intervened to save John Maxwell from Harry Wharton:
Except for an episode which he made memorable both for John Maxwell and Lord Wharton’s son, he [Lymond] took no part in the fighting...(Pt 3, Ch II, Sec 2)
Now we know what the "memorable" episode at Durisdeer was!

Tom does not know whether to admire Lymond's courage or reprove his recklessness. He hasn't long to consider it because Acheson is faintly stirring, and this means Lymond has to do something soon. It also pushes Tom to act. He cautiously works his way to the balcony overlooking the transept. Erskine notices that Lymond has managed to position himself closer to Acheson and, in so doing, probably caught sight of Tom. The English are still tangled in Lymond's sticky verbal web, which has certainly entrapped Matthew Lennox. The final insult comes when Lymond says to him, "Didn’t you know that Margaret spent her sojourn in Scotland with me?" Lymond is convincing--he had access to a letter from Matthew to Margaret. He continues:
"Didn’t you know she was using the war as a fulcrum for her fishing line with myself as the prey? I was to be driven into the nets since, unlike the beaver, my self-defence stops short of unserviceable gestures. Do you find that objectionable? Pitiful? Even a little ludicrous, perhaps? A self-interest so insanely exclusive that it includes even murder?"
Notice that Lymond addresses Matthew, not Margaret. He knows she is well beyond shame or humiliation or even most forms of manipulation. Francis also guesses that Lennox himself is largely ignorant of Margaret's schemes, which included the deaths of Christian and Sym.

When Lymond says his self defense is unlike the beaver's, he is alluding to the behavior of the beaver, whose testicles were valued for their medicinal qualities. The story is that a beaver, rather than being captured, would bite off its own testicles. The fable goes back at least to Aesop, and the belief in this particular beaver behavior persisted into the Middle Ages in Europe. Lymond refers to the act as an "unserviceable [unworkable] gesture," but one Margaret probably would applaud in his case.

Everyone except Margaret is mesmerized. Lymond just keeps it up, his voice now "stripped of its normal pleasant negligence." His accusations against Margaret have the unmistakable ring of truth. All the people there know that Samuel Harvey was alive until very recently and had information Lymond was desperate to receive. Lymond finally provokes Margaret into saying what she really thinks, undoubtedly to the disgust of all present--that Christian is better off dead. This is over the line. No one, her husband least of all, rushes to her defense. They know her too well to see her as the aggrieved party, and Lymond's story holds together.

Lymond does not relent. Above all, he is trying to keep everyone's focus firmly fixed on him--anywhere except on Acheson. He ups the level of his attacks on the Lennoxes, in particular, detailing Margaret's overweening ambition. Lymond contends that Margaret uses Matthew as she would any man, Tudor, Douglas, Crawford, and who knows who else to satisfy that ambition.

His tactic works. Just as he hopes, Margaret cannot take it any longer and launches an attack on him. Lymond smoothly uses Margaret as a shield while grabbing Harry Wharton's bow and quiver. Lymond has seen Tom on the balcony. What follows is a tense standoff. Lymond has one arrow. Grey, the Whartons, the Lennoxes, the two guards are immobilized by that one arrow, which could end any one of their lives. All Tom and Lymond need do is kill Acheson and leave--their way is open and there is no one to impede their flight.

"They held the hour in their fingers, like a day lily." The day lily gets its name from the fact that each bud blooms for one day, making each hour precious.

The Arquebusier
That is, until Tom catches sight of an arquebusier on the ledge above them. At the same time, Acheson sits up and is shielded from Lymond by a parapet. The arquebusier starts the arduous process of loading his weapon. Lymond knows he is there and knows what his presence means. All the while Lymond keeps talking, talking, talking. What he says is not pointless blather. Indeed, Lymond refers to his adjuration to Grey as ex cathedra or authoritative. He is making a point worth regarding: hunt, if you must, for that individual man who, such as I, is a nuisance to you and your cause, but never let that search be driven by your vanity, your hurt ego, or it will cost you. You may get your man in the end, but the price will be too high, as it is today:
"Today...such an error has cost you a war."

Now unfolds as if in slow motion the two virtually simultaneous shots, one from Lymond's bow, the other from the hackbut.
Lymond smiled once, with a kind of surprised pleasure, and releasing the deadly, unerring arrow, shot Acheson through the heart. 
If not a moment of barbarous hilarity, this is surely a moment of great ironic delight for Francis Crawford. He knows he is about to be shot, probably fatally wounded, by the arquebusier, and the irony that he will die at the hands of the English, for whom the Scots believe he has been working, while preserving a secret essential to the security of a country that regards him as a traitor elicits this single smile.

Rarely has death-dealing sounded so beautiful. All the English eyes look up from the dead body of Acheson, whose message about the Scottish queen dies on his lips, towards Lymond, exquisite, brave, and sardonic as always as he falls unconscious into Tom's gentle arms.

Lymond's last words are from a poem by John Skelton (1463-1529), Why Come Ye Not to Court?, about Cardinal Balue, who under the influence of King Louis XI became a cardinal rather miraculously after being beheaded, drawn, and quartered:
Committed open treason
And against his lord sovereign;
Wherefore he suffered pain,
Was headed, drawn, and quartered,
And died stinkingly martyred.
Lo, yet for all that
He wore a cardinal's hat...
Lymond is accused of betraying his country and in danger of execution, so it is not surprising that this line comes into his mind as he slips "bit by bit" into unconsciousness. It recalls the last time he saw George Douglas when Lymond chose to turn himself over to the English in exchange for Christian:
"Do-to the book; quench the candle; ring the bell. Of course I shall go. Why else was I born?” said Lymond with bitter finality."
Here in the Abbey at Hexham, Lymond believes he dies not only a damned excommunicant but also a traitor.

Favorite Line
Kate smoothed the crumpled sheets with gentle fingers, and spoke aloud. “He was very nearly good enough for you, that one,” she said; and drawing the yellow curtains, shut out the sun.
  1. Does the description of Lymond as living in a sarcophagus mean that he sees himself as already dead or is it only a reference to emotional death?
  2. Why does Christian want Kate and not Lymond to remain by her side while she dies?
  3. Who do you think switched the confession, giving Christian blank pages? 
  4. Why is Kate "infinitely more afraid of the immobile man at the keyboard [Lymond]"?
  5. Who is paying Acheson to frame Lymond? Presumably it is not George Douglas, who is betraying the plans to remove the queen to France, because he wanted his letter delivered personally to Lord Grey.
  6. What is Tom Erskine's opinion of Francis Crawford now, do you think?
Words that Describe Lymond in The Last Move
  • exhausted
  • guilt-ridden
  • tightly wound
  • stretched to the limit of endurance
  • gentle
  • loving
  • kind
  • sensitive
  • sincere
  • honest
  • honorable
  • despairing
  • controlled
  • passionate
  • articulate
  • manipulative
  • sardonic
  • disciplined
  • wily
  • vindictive
  • desperate
  • determined
  • furious
  • outraged
  • mouthy
  • impudent
  • amused
  • fatalistic

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